Thursday, December 01, 2022

Uvalde lawsuit

Complaint here. I have been thinking about this inevitable lawsuit and the problems it will face--and I am not sure this complaint, as pleaded, avoids those problems. The main claim is substantive due process/bodily integrity. There are two ways to plead this claim based on third-party harms--state-created danger and special relationship. The complaint alleges both and both encounter problems.

As to the former, the Fifth Circuit (so far) refuses to recognize state-created danger as a basis for due process liability (the only circuit never to do so), although the complaint does not mention this fact.Maybe this is the case that would prompt a change, but I doubt it. So to the extent they premise liability and remedy on "Uvalde officials did a horrible job and allowed Salvador Ramos to do what he did," that theory is unavailable in the Fifth Circuit.

As to the latter, special relationship does not apply between schools and teachers and students, because their presence in school (unlike, e.g., prisons) is not involuntarily coercive. And law enforcement does not have a special relationship with the public or a general duty to protect. Plaintiffs offer two ways around this. First, by showing up and establishing a perimeter, police created a special relationship that did not previously exist. This raises tricky line-drawing problems. The theory is that police lack a general duty to protect but at some point they take enough affirmative steps to establish a special relationship and create that duty to protect--where, exactly, is that point? But this seems to be the best thing they have. The second theory is that police affirmatively prevented parents and others from helping out while police did nothing. But this does not describe inaction within a special relationship; it describes affirmative action to worsen a third-party-harm situation, which sounds in state-created danger (still unavailable in the Fifth Circuit) rather than special relationship.

Plaintiffs include claims for municipal liability against the school district for a custom or practice of noncompliance with safety regulations and against the city for failing to follow existing active-shooter protocols and failing to train/supervise officers on those protocols, which they "magnificently failed" to follow. Two things. First, there is an interesting puzzle here over the concept of policy and policymakers Uvalde had protocols--formal policies established by government policymakers--that police ignored; municipalities avoid liability when they can show that officers ignored or acted contrary to official policy. Plaintiffs attempt to avoid that by alleging that the acting police chief, the policymaker for law enforcement, created new policy by ignoring existing policy. Second, municipal liability depends on an underlying constitutional violation and injury to which municipal policy, custom, or failure-to-[blank] contributed. The immediate cause of the injury is the private shooter, which returns us to state-created danger (policies and failures as affirmative acts enhancing the shooter's ability to kill) not recognized in the Fifth Circuit or to special relationship that, as described above, does not fit seem to fit here.

Finally, they ask for an injunction basically compelling the school and the city to get its shit together as to school safety and active-shooter responses. They also ask to certify a class to get around the obvious standing problems. We will see if that works, given the unlikelihood of another shooting situation, no matter how bad the city's customs and practices.

I am putting the final touches on the third edition of my civil rights treatise, including new case-based problems. I may need to add this one.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 1, 2022 at 10:32 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

JOTWELL: Campos on Francus on the Texas Two-Step

The new Courts Law essay comes from Sergio Campos (Miami), reviewing Michael A. Francus, Texas Two-Stepping Out of Bankruptcy, 120 Mich. L. Rev. Online 38 (2022), another discussion of the use of bankruptcy in mass tort.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 22, 2022 at 02:33 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Effective v. Enforceable

Further thoughts on the Georgia trial court and the idea that a law enacted contrary to binding judicial precedent never became a law:

The problem may be one of nomenclature and the conflation of two terms--when a law is effective and when a law is enforceable. My view is that a law is effective on the date the legislature indicates in the enrolled and signed bill. Constitutional litigation concerns whether a law is enforceable--and the judicial remedy from constitutional litigation is to stop enforcement of the challenged law, not to cause the law to cease being effective. Thus the Georgia court's fundamental error. Pre-Dobbs precedent did not cause the law to lack effect; it causes the law to be unenforceable. This, again, goes back to the source of the constitutional violation--the law itself or its enforcement.

The same nomenclature problems arose in the S.B.8 discussions in September 2021. People complained about SCOTUS' denying emergency relief allowing S.B.8 to take effect. But that is wrong. S.B.8 took effect on September 1, 2021, per the law's text. Denying emergency relief allowed S.B.8 to be, and remain, enforceable (through private lawsuits).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2022 at 01:32 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Georgia trial court rejects judicial departmentalism

A Georgia trial court declares Georgia's heartbeat ban constitutionally invalid underGeorgia's "void ab initio" doctrine--a law enacted contrary to binding judicial precedent never had any force or effect. While "on the books," the law never carried any force or effect. It "'is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office.'" It is "'in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.'" The court adds that "an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void." There can be no zombie laws that "spring back to life" when precedent changes.

Obviously I disagree with this framing. The legislature did enact a law that is in effect in the state of Georgia. The law is not enforceable--or at least enforcement is certain to fail once the issue reaches the judiciary and the judiciary applies then-existing constitutional doctrine. Moreover, this approach presumes that a law violates the Constitution (in this case, the rights of pregnant people) by existing and thus the legislature violates the Constitution by enacting it. But the constitutional violation arises from the actual or threatened enforcement of the law, not from the law itself; the legislature does nothing wrong in enacting a  law. Put differently: The court says that the heartbeat ban "exist[ed] only on paper." But all laws exist only on paper. Their force and effect comes from actual or attempted enforcement--at which point the judiciary and controlling precedent come into play.

Here is the topper:

What does this ruling mean? Most fundamentally, it means that courts -- not legislatures -- define the law. This is nothing new, but it seems increasingly forgotten (or ignored): “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803); see also Beall v. Beall, 8 Ga. 210, 219–20 (1850). If the courts have spoken, clearly and directly, as to what the law is, as to what is and is not constitutional, legislatures and legislators are not at liberty to pass laws contrary to such pronouncements. This does not, as the State protests, leave the legislative branch powerless in the face of “judicial supremacy run amok.” (Defendant’s Response at 1). To the contrary, “[t]he inherent powers of our State General Assembly are awesome.... [It] is absolutely unrestricted in its power to legislate, so long as it does not undertake to enact measures prohibited by the State or Federal Constitution.” Sears v. State of Ga., 232 Ga. 547, 553–54 (1974) (citation omitted). The void ab initio doctrine and its application to something like the LIFE Act properly cabins that broad legislative authority to set policy for our State and for the people who comprise it: do what you will, only do so within the bounds of the constitution that the courts have established.

If I were looking to give my students a definition of judicial supremacy, I could not do any better--the courts define the law, the Constitution means what the courts say it means, and the legislature must yield to the judiciary's constitutional understanding. The legislature's power is unrestricted unless the judiciary restricts it.

One criticism of judicial departmentalism (as Kevin Walsh framed it and as I have applied it to disputes about SB8 and universal injunctions) is that it collapses into judicial supremacy--because every dispute reaches court, the judicial view prevails at the end of the day. This case demonstrates the difference--judicial departmentalism leaves the legislature a modicum of power to engage in the legislative process and to define the state's statute books--however the laws on those books may or may not be enforced.

Besides being a bad approach to constitutional law, this approach may prove to much and raises a number of open issues:

    • Must legislatures repeal zombie laws and ensure the statute books are consistent with the state of judicially declared constitutional law? Alternatively, must they reenact zombie laws when the Court changes its constitutional understanding? If a new law contrary to judicial precedent never gains legal effect, does an existing law contrary to new judicial precedent lose all legal effect? The court's logic is yes--the zombies never "spring back to life." So a new law is required for any effect.

    • How can the political branches seek to change judicial precedent? There must be a law and actual or threatened enforcement to present a case in which the judiciary could change precedent. So Mississippi succeeded in getting the Court to overrule Roe by enacting a new law and triggering the litigation through which the Court changed precedent. But if the new law is void ab initio, the court never reaches the substantive constitutional question (or must reach out to do so when unnecessary, which we say courts should not do) because the new law never was law. And that will be the case for any new law. And if I am right about the prior bullet point, the state cannot use existing laws for the challenge, because those lost all force and effect.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2022 at 10:56 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, November 11, 2022

Argument in Talevski

Here is my recap of Tuesday's argument in HHC v. Talevski, considering whether any Spending Clause enactments can be enforced through § 1983 litigation. I remain bad at predictions, but best guess: The Court will not categorically reject § 1983 enforcement, perhaps unanimously. But a majority will hold that FNHRA precludes private enforcement (the SG's position) because of the statute's comprehensive administrative scheme.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 11, 2022 at 02:51 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

(Guest Post) The Mallory Argument on Personal Jurisdiction via Corporate Registration

The following is by Rocky Rhodes (South Texas) and Andra Robertson (Case Western); this is the latest in a series of posts on the case. I have been focused on elections and Tuesday's other argument, but I hope to add something  to this discussion later this week.

The Supreme Court heard argument yesterday in Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., which addresses the constitutional limits on states asserting jurisdiction over a nonresident corporate defendant that registers to do business in the state. Under 42 Pa. C.S. § 5301, state courts obtain “general jurisdiction” over a nonresident corporation registering to do business. Mallory claims that this statute supports Pennsylvania’s jurisdiction over his FELA claim against his employer Norfolk Southern Railway because the railroad is registered to business in the state—even though Mallory is a citizen of Virginia, the railroad is incorporated with a then-principal place of business in Virginia (now in Atlanta, Georgia), and his claim arose from his alleged exposure to carcinogens in Virginia and Ohio. The railroad counters that the exercise of personal jurisdiction violates the Due Process Clause and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. We had a series of posts on this case on Prawfs shortly after certiorari was granted last April (see here, here, and here), and Howard invited us back to report on the oral argument and the briefing in the case. We’ll highlight the primary positions of the parties, the Justices who pushed back, and some interesting tidbits for our fellow jurisdictional aficionados.

Originalism and the Historical Archival Brief

Mallory’s primary argument is that the Pennsylvania statute is constitutional under the original public meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. His merits brief includes an exhaustive compilation of state statutes during the 1800s tying corporate registration to a state’s adjudicative jurisdiction, with the first of these statutes appearing in the 1820s. This listing is not a surprising strategy for a plaintiff confronting a Court that has a reputation for being sympathetic to business interests while also (at least sometimes) singing the praises of originalism. Such historical archival compilations may become as commonplace in constitutional cases before the Roberts Court as the Brandeis brief was during the Lochner era.

But several Justices questioned the impact of these statutes, as did the railroad. Justice Barrett doubted that all the listed statutes were on point—some involved questions of service of process and others did not authorize all claims against the registering defendant, but rather only claims brought by a resident of the forum. The railroad also argued that most of the statutes were distinguishable and that nineteenth century cases did not support that jurisdiction was appropriate under these statutes when the plaintiff was a nonresident and the cause of action arose outside the forum. Mallory responded that all the statutes were relevant, while admitting that there were very few cases that employed these statutes in “foreign cubed” cases, where neither the defendant nor the plaintiff was a resident of the forum and the events giving rise to the claim occurred outside the forum. The statutes were more commonly applied in “foreign squared” cases, where at least the plaintiff was a resident of the forum. But in response to Justice Alito, Mallory maintained that the existence of the statutes was enough—he did not have to show a tradition of those statutes being applied by the courts to establish original public meaning.

Justice Thomas asked a question that he was able to avoid (by discounting the many proffered analogies to gun restrictions in the Founding and Reconstruction eras) in his opinion this summer in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen—how many state statutes are necessary to establish the original meaning? Mallory responded that was a difficult issue, but thought the compilation of statutes in the brief satisfied the requirement. But that would not be the case, of course, if the Court views the statutes as distinguishable.

Registration as Consent?

Justice Thomas also embarked on questioning that became a consistent theme throughout the argument—is the Pennsylvania statute really evidence of consent? Justice Kagan queried whether the registration-to-do-business form could be a form of actual consent when it does not specify the consequences of the registration: “All the piece of paper does is comply with a state law requirement that everyone who does business in the state has to make their identities known . . . [s]o where is the consent to jurisdiction in that?” Wasn’t any such “consent” therefore fictional, and how would that differ from a statute providing that intrastate business activities would subject a nonresident corporate defendant to general jurisdiction? The railroad also hammered this point, arguing that ex ante consent was only permissible in a private contract (apparently like the adhesion contracts corporations force on consumers with arbitration agreements or forum selection clauses), but not in an agreement with the state.

Mallory responded that pieces of paper matter—incorporation is a matter of filing papers that grants the state general personal jurisdiction, and the same should occur when a nonresident corporation registers to do business and the state by statute specifies the jurisdictional consequences of that registration. This was supported, Mallory continued, by the longstanding history and tradition of statutes and judicial decisions recognizing registration to do business as a constitutionally permissible method to obtain consent to personal jurisdiction.

Chief Justice Roberts replied that “history and tradition move on” and indicated that the minimum contacts analysis in International Shoe Co. v. Washington dispensed with these older cases. But Mallory maintained that International Shoe recognized jurisdiction based on “consent to be sued or authorization to an agent to accept service of process.” He continued that consent was a traditional basis of jurisdiction—like the tag jurisdiction upheld in Burnham v. Superior Court—and could exist side-by-side with the minimum contacts standard (although no one discussed how Shaffer v. Heitner might impact that possibility). Justice Gorsuch also rallied to Mallory’s defense, arguing that, if tag jurisdiction can exist alongside International Shoe, so can consent jurisdiction through registration.

Justices Kagan and Kavanaugh were concerned that this would effectively undercut the “at home” standard for general jurisdiction from Daimler AG v. Bauman and Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown. Justice Kavanaugh noted that, if the Court found in favor of Mallory, “every state could have a statute like this,” meaning “that every business would be at home throughout the country.” This would, as the Second Circuit colorfully maintained, rob Daimler of meaning “by a back-door thief.”

Corporations v. Natural Persons

Justice Gorsuch answered this concern by returning to tag jurisdiction, reiterating a question from his concurrence in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court: why should corporations have special protections from jurisdiction based on registration when individuals in a forum state can be tagged? Mallory agreed that there was no basis for such a distinction: “Obviously, the language of the Fourteenth Amendment speaks to persons, and it doesn’t create . . . a person that’s entitled to better constitutional rights because they were birthed by filing a piece of paper in Virginia as opposed to . . . being birthed by a mother at a hospital.”

The railroad, of course, had a different view. Tag jurisdiction against natural persons, the railroad contended, was supported by a longstanding historical tradition, while there was only a smattering of statutes and almost no cases indicating that registration could support general jurisdiction. The railroad maintained that the old service of process statutes referenced in Mallory’s brief were simply not enough. And tag jurisdiction was also different since a person can only be in one state at a time, while a corporation might be coerced to consent to jurisdiction simultaneously in each and every state.

The Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine and State Sovereign Interests

In addition to the argument that its registration was not a form of consent, the railroad pushed the argument that any consent would be an unconstitutional condition. The railroad claimed a right to be free from general jurisdiction when it was not “at home” in the forum, urging that coercing its agreement to jurisdiction to secure its right to conduct business in Pennsylvania would be unconstitutionally coercive. Although its brief was more nuanced, acknowledging the possibility without agreeing that consent through a registration statute might be permissible for claims by state residents, the railroad insisted on a bright line during oral argument that any consent outside the contours of specific jurisdiction was an unconstitutional condition.

Mallory countered that the unconstitutional conditions doctrine did not apply. He said that the history and tradition of these registration statutes removed them from scrutiny as an unconstitutional condition. Also, the greater power of a state to totally shut down a market includes the lesser power to obtain a consent to jurisdiction.

Mallory had immediate pushback from Justices Kavanaugh and Alito on whether a state today could shut down a market under the dormant Commerce Clause. Mallory urged that under the original meaning a state could do so, while recognizing the tension with the Court’s dormant Commerce Clause cases. Here Mallory may have missed an opportunity to distinguish between intrastate and interstate business activities, although it was alluded to by Justice Jackson—while precedent establishes a state cannot bar a nonresident corporate defendant’s interstate activities, it might (at least arguably) have the ability to exclude a corporation for failing to register when it performs a sufficient quantum of intrastate business activities, as we discuss in a prior writing.

And speaking of our writings, Justice Sotomayor asked Mallory about the amicus brief that we co-authored with Robin Effron, Jack Preis, Jeff Rensberger, and Aaron Simowitz. She referred to our position that consent through registration to do business could be constitutional, but only if the state has a sovereign interest in the dispute. And, if our argument was accepted, what would be the sovereign interest in this case? Mallory urged that historically a sovereign interest was not required (which we dispute in our brief). He then continued that even if a sovereign interest was necessary, Pennsylvania had a state interest in opening its courthouse doors to everyone. He pointed to state constitutional right-to-remedy and open-courts provisions, urging they established a foundational understanding that a resident should have a forum, with states also having a sovereign interest in treating residents and nonresidents the same. But the Court’s past cases, as we point out in our brief, have distinguished between a state’s sovereign interests with respect to residents and nonresidents.

In a lengthy follow-up question, Justice Kagan seemed skeptical that Pennsylvania had a sovereign interest. The railroad also pointed out that Pennsylvania had not asserted a sovereign interest in the case by trying to defend the constitutionality of the statute. Yet perhaps there is an interest in the case due to the amount of business that the railroad does in Pennsylvania. Indeed, it appears the reason the suit was filed in Pennsylvania is that the union lawyer soliciting these carcinogenic exposure cases was based in Pennsylvania and then referred Mallory to Pennsylvania counsel, which is not surprising when more of the railroad’s employees work in Pennsylvania than in any other state.

Daimler Revisited?

Justice Sotomayor expressed her continued disagreement with Daimler, using this case as an illustration. Even though it was not in the record, an amicus brief detailed that the railroad operates more track and has more employees in Pennsylvania than it does in any other state in the union. While recognizing the possibility of coercion in registration in cases of smaller companies, there was no injustice here when the railroad was conducting that much business in the state. The only reason it was not “at home” in Pennsylvania was that it had its corporate offices in Virginia and identified Virginia as its corporate headquarters and principal place of business.

It’s not clear, though, that any other Justice desires to revisit Daimler. Justice Jackson appears to favor Mallory on a waiver theory—the railroad waived any ability to assert its due process rights by registering to do business. Justice Gorsuch (perhaps joined by Justice Thomas) seems willing to uphold jurisdiction based on the original meaning of consent-by-registration statutes and a comparison to tag jurisdiction for natural persons, with the unequal treatment “due process Lochnerism for corporations.”

But the remainder of the Court appears disinclined to hold for Mallory. Some Justices discussed our intermediate position of requiring a state sovereign interest, and the United States also recognized that there could be situations where a registration statute might support jurisdictional consent when specific jurisdiction is not present. But historically, the United States continued, these registration statutes were limited to claims either by a forum resident or that had some other relationship to the dispute, echoing the position we took in our amicus brief.

Oral argument showed that the Justices had very different views about the basis for constitutional limits on personal jurisdiction. Justices suggested approaches for resolving the case that ranged from due process to principles flowing from the dormant Commerce Clause to unconstitutional conditions—a set of topics where each one, on its own, has given rise to a thorny doctrinal tangle. Clearing a path to five votes won’t be easy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 9, 2022 at 01:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 07, 2022

JOTWELL: Effron on Simon on bankruptcy as aggregate litigation

The new Courts Law essay comes from Robin Effron (Brooklyn) reviewing Lindsey D. Simon, Bankrtupcy Grifters, 131 Yale L.J. 1154 (2022), which considers bankruptcy as a tool of aggregate litigation and the problem of solvent debtors running to bankruptcy to avoid mass-tort litigation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 7, 2022 at 03:01 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Civ Pro Halloween

Civ Pro is a spring class around here, so no in-class costumes. Still, I got a visit from a student in my office. She is 4'11" tall; she wore a white t-shirt with the word "statement" on it.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 31, 2022 at 05:20 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2022

JOTWELL: Bartholomew on Ormerod on qui tam

The new Courts Law essay comes from Christine Bartholomew (Buffalo) reviewing Peter Ormerod, Privacy Qui Tam, ___ Notre Dame L. Rev. (forthcoming 2023), proposing qui tam actions to enforce privacy rights.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2022 at 01:14 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2022

JOTWELL: Mullenix on Dodge, Gardner, & Whytock on Forum Non Conveniens

The new Courts Law essay comes from Linda Mullenix (Texas), reviewing William S. Dodge, Maggie Gardner, & Christopher A. Whytock, The Many State Doctrines of Forum Non Conveniens, 72 Duke L.J. (forthcoming 2023).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 10, 2022 at 08:47 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Trump v. CNN

Donald Trump has sued CNN for reporting and op-eds comparing him to Hitler and using the term "Big Lie;" he seeks $ 475 million in damages.

This lawsuit demonstrates something I have argued for awhile--the call to overrule New York Times as shorthand for rejecting or limiting actual malice is a red herring, distracting from a broader attack on political speech, criticism of government and other influential persons, and the First Amendment's broader speech-protective superstructure. A host of First Amendment principles destroy this case, regardless of actual malice. Everything the suit complains about is political speech and criticism, opinion, and rhetorical hyperbole--all at the core of First Amendment protections; it points to no provable and verifiable statements of fact that can form a basis for defamation liability. The suit would overrule the "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials." It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of caustic and sharp rhetorical hyperbole than comparing a political leader to Hitler.

The suit also suggests that because CNN purports to be a news organization, it enjoys less First Amendment protection--including the loss of protections of actual malice--than other speakers. It argues that actual-malice protection should not apply

where the media defendant is not publishing statements to foster debate, critical thinking, or the 'unfettered interchange of ideas' but rather seeks to participate in the political arena by offering propaganda.

This is insane on several levels. It suggests there is something called "propaganda" entitled to less protection; it allows government to define and draw the line between that and fostering debate; and it insists there is a distinct category called "news" (never defined) and limits certain media speakers to that category. The irony of this media/other speaker distinction is that it turns NYT on its head. The Court has long debated but never resolved whether NYT applies to nonmedia defendants. Trump's suit goes the other way--media defendants enjoy less protection than other speakers.

This is an absurd suit that should go down in flames at the 12(b)(6) stage and should result in sanctions for the ethically challenged lawyers who filed this. In addition, Florida's anti-SLAPP statute could rear its head. The statutory dispositive motion does not apply in federal court. But Florida's statute contains a unique fee-shifting provision--fees are available for any action that is "without merit," not limited to actions  rejected under the special anti-SLAPP motion (as in most anti-SLAPP laws). One judge in the Southern District of Florida has applied the statutory provision (which should apply in federal court) to award fees where the action was dismissed on an ordinary 12(b)(6). Trump thus could be on the hook for attorney's fees for this abuse of process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 4, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 03, 2022

Maybe Dobbs is different

During the period between the Dobbs leak and the opinion, I wrestled with the arguments that Dobbs is unique because it overrules precedent to eliminate a recognized individual right, as opposed to reinstating or establishing a new right. I was not sold on the argument because the Court has "eliminated" rights--overruling Lochner and overruling some crim pro stuff. In any event, I was not convinced that the difference matters for the Court's "legitimacy."

But here is a thought that might change my mind. There is an open question whether conduct that was constitutionally protected when performed at T1 can be punished or sanctioned at T3 after precedent changes and that conduct loses its constitutional protection at T2. This can happen in two ways. 1) An existing law,de-zombified, is enforced against a rights-holder; the rights-holder's pre-new-precedent conduct violated the law, so she becomes subject to successful enforcement of the law following the change ; or 2) Following the change, government enacts a new law, imposing civil (not criminal) sanctions and made expressly retroactive, and the law is enforced against a rights-holder's pre-new-precedent conduct. Jonathan Mitchell (the source of S.B. 8 and its imitators) argues that either is permissible. Precedent functions as a judicially imposed non-enforcement policy; when that non-enforcement policy changes because judicial precedent changes, the rights-holder can be liable for conduct that violated the statute.

If Mitchell is right,decisions eliminating a right (Dobbs) are different from one that does not eliminate a right (Brown). The former imposes new consequences on rights-holder for old conduct; the latter does not. Or the difference triggers some forward-looking due process concerns.

I would not frame this as legitimacy. But it implicates an additional layer of constitutional concern going forward.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 3, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

JOTWELL: Vladeck on Codrington on Purcell

The new Courts Law essay comes from Steve Vladeck (Texas), reviewing Wilfred U. Codrington III, Purcell in Pandemic, 96 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 941 (2021), exploring the use of Purcell to avoid challenges to COVID-related voting restrictions.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 27, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Still getting procedure wrong

Following last night's Eleventh Circuit benchslap, Judge Cannon sua sponte modified her order by excluding seized materials from those to be reviewed by the special master and striking two paragraphs ordering the SM to prioritize and make available to plaintiff's counsel the documents marked classified.

Two problems, I think. The amended order moots the 11th Circuit stay and thus Trump's appeal of the stay. The court of appeals only stayed the order as to the documents marked classified; since the order no longer affects those documents, there is nothing to stay. But that highlights the second problem--how does Judge Cannon have jurisdiction to modify the order? The government appealed the entire order, although it sought a stay only of the part related to classified documents (so it could continue the criminal investigation pending appeal). But if the entire order is in the 11th Circuit, how does Judge Cannon have jurisdiction to modify it? The unstayed portions must be complied with (i.e., the SM proceedings go forward). But the district court should not have the power to change an order that has left the district court and is on appeal--otherwise a district court could hamper appellate jurisdiction by repeatedly changing the orders in the case.

What am I missing?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 22, 2022 at 12:39 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The wrong abstention

The district court held a hearing in the lawsuit by Tampa DA Andrew Warren against Ron DeSantis for suspending him from office. The court from the bench granted the state's motion to dismiss the state claims (under Pennhurst), denied the motion to dismiss the First Amendment claims (more below), and denied Warren's motion for a preliminary injunction reinstating him.

I thought the court should abstain under Pullman. There is an open question of whether the suspension was proper under the state Constitution; if it was not, Warren is entitled to reinstatement without the federal court resolving the (uncertain) First Amendment issue. This case matches Pullman--state action of uncertain state-law provenance arguably violates the federal Constitution and the federal courts holds on the federal issue to allow state courts to resolve the potentially dispositive state issue. Pullman is disfavored, especially in First Amendment cases, but the case seems the rare one that fits. But the state did not argue Pullman, citing it only for a general proposition about federalism.

Instead, the state argued Younger--that the federal court should abstain in deference to the Senate proceeding that reviews the governor's decision and either formally removes or reinstates the official. The states describes the proceeding as ongoing and judicial in nature, serving an important state purpose worthy of comity deference, and providing Warren an adequate opportunity to raise his First Amendment defenses.

The state messed up the Younger analysis by not citing Sprint or placing the Senate proceeding in a Sprint categroy. Presumably it is # 2 (certain civil actions akin to criminal cases). But the state must explain why it fits--whether the state is a party, whether it has the trappings of a criminal proceeding by following an investigation and charge, and whether it is designed to punish for past misconduct. It is iffy on the second, but otherwise fits that category. If an administrative proceeding (e.g., attorney discipline) is sufficiently judicial, this Senate process should be.

But this raises a different issue within Younger. One Younger premise is that abstention forces the rights-holder into defensive state litigation, but with possible (albeit not guaranteed) federal review of the federal issues in SCOTUS under § 1257. It appears that Senate review of removal constitutes the last word, not subject to state judicial review and therefore not subject to SCOTUS review (the Senate is not the "highest court" of a state). Unlike an administrative proceeding reviewable in state court and thus to SCOTUS, the Senate proceeding, however "judicial" in nature and however able Warren is to raise the First Amendment, does not provide a path into the state judiciary and thus to SCOTUS. And perhaps that explains the denial of abstention.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 20, 2022 at 06:03 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Morissette, J., dissenting

A 5-4 Court on Wednesday denied Yeshiva University's request for a stay of a state-court preliminary injunction requiring it to recognize an LGBTQ+ undergrad student group. The majority (the Chief, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh, Jackson) pointed out that Yeshiva had not sought a stay or expedited review in the state courts. Unlike the typical shadow docket case, the Court cannot hear this case on the merits for several layers of review. Justice Alito dissented for Thomas, Gorsuch, and Barrett. Typical shadow-docket stuff--it is obvious how we will rule on the merits of this religious-liberty claim so do not waste time with procedural niceties such as multiple layers of review.

Here is the interesting piece. Alito cites National Socialist Party v. Skokie for the proposition that a state-court denial of a stay is a final order--ignoring that the Illinois Supreme Court had denied that stay and expedited review, whereas here the trial court denied the stay and Yeshiva never asked the state appellate court or the state high court for a stay or expedited appeal. He then says "It is ironic that the theory that supported a stay in that case is eschewed here."

In what way is this ironic? Is it because Jews are involved in both cases? Does it matter that Jews were not party to Skokie? Was that case inherently Jewish because it involved Nazis? Is it less ironic if the non-Jews of Skokie, hopefully, also were not thrilled to have Nazis marching there? Does it matter that the Jews were targeted in Skokie as an ethnic group rather than religious (since Nazism does not distinguish religious from non-religious Jews). And what if, like many Jews, one believes the Nazis should have been allowed to march and Yeshiva should be required to recognize the student group--does it cease to be ironic?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 15, 2022 at 09:07 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 12, 2022

JOTWELL: Carroll on Greene & Renberg on judges without J.D.s

The new Courts Law essay comes from Maureen Carroll (Michigan) reviewing Sara Sternberg Greene & Kristen M. Renberg, Judging Without a J.D., 122 Colum. L. Rev. 1287 (2022), examining the phenomenon of low-level state judges who do not have law degrees.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 12, 2022 at 02:38 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 05, 2022

Does lawyering matter?

Perdue v. Kenny A. limited when judges could increase an award of attorney's fees beyond the lodestar for "superior performance and results." Chief Justice Roberts doubted the claim during argument; he posited that there was a knowable right answer in the case and that good attorney performance cannot change what that answer is. That "answer" likely is whatever the judge believes to be the right answer.

But that raises the question of whether lawyering matters at all. If the judge will do what she is inclined to do, does the quality of the lawyering matter? Case in point--Judge Cannon granted Donald Trump's motion (while acknowledging how "convoluted" this collateral-ish proceeding is) to appoint a special master and enjoined DOJ from continuing to review the seized documents for prosecution (although not for national-security) purposes. No one can objectively compare the papers by each side in this case and conclude that Trump's lawyers did a better job lawyering the case--making and supporting legal arguments with precedent, adhering to rules and procedures, not sounding like a Twitter fight, not throwing around random concepts ("fruit of the poisonous tree"), and focusing on the actual relief at hand. None of it mattered--the judge (for whatever reason) was inclined to rule a particular way and did so. Of course, she did so without any legal analysis--no explanation of how executive privilege applies against the executive branch; how equitable jurisdiction is not barred by laches; how 41(g) is the correct vehicle when executive-privilege documents still do not belong to Trump and thus are not returnable personal property; and why former presidents suffer greater "stigma" constituting irreparable injury than any other target of a search warrant. She also called her order a "temporary injunction," which is not a thing under FRCP 65--there are (non-appealable) temporary restraining orders and (appealable) preliminary injunctions; so getting the law right does not seem to be her strong suit. Of course, Cannon did a better job than Trump's lawyers--making something coherent (if wrong) of the nonsense they submitted.

The injunction is immediately appealable, without needing mandamus. Some knowledgeable folks are wondering whether DOJ will bother appealing or whether it will ride out the special-master process and deal with the few-week delay or appealing later problematic rulings from the special master.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 5, 2022 at 01:07 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Judicial departmentalism in action

Idaho wants to prevent trans people from changing their gender markers on state documents. Here is how it has gone:

Pre-2018: State regulations prevent trans people from changing markers.

2018: Federal court declares reg violates equal protection

2020: State enacts legislation codifying regulation

2021: Federal court declares legislation violates equal protection

2022: Court orders state to pay $300,000 in attorney's fees.

Folks are giving Idaho a hard time, but this is how it should work. The state pursued its constitutional vision, even contrary to judicial precedent. The court's competing view prevailed in litigation and the state adheres to the adverse judgment. And the court awarded the state to pay attorney's fees to the prevailing plaintiffs. That the court's view will prevail in litigation and that the court can award fees can/should place a drag on states pursuing their departmentalist preferences--states know they will lose and lose money.

It is unwieldy. But it is how the system should work.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 20, 2022 at 05:37 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Bad lawsuits from the left

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County (Fla--includes Tampa) state's attorney Andrew Warren from office, pursuant to his constitutional power to suspend any state officer not subject to impeachment. The basis for the removal is Warren's intention not to prosecute for receiving or providing abortions and gender-affirming healthcare, which DeSantis described as a refusal to enforce state law.  Warren filed suit in federal court; he alleges the suspension violates the First Amendment (because Warren has merely spoken about exercising his discretion not to prosecute, but has not been presented with or done anything with any live cases) and the Florida Constitution (because DeSantis did not establish proper grounds for suspension).

This is a bad lawsuit. Like many lawsuits from the right, it is partly for show, to look strong in standing up to the other side. Warren gave a press conference talking about how DeSantis abused his power and acted undemocratically in removing a twice-elected official who received more votes in Hillsborough County than DeSantis had. That rhetoric does not differ from Republican cries during Trump's impeachments. It seems to me there are two problems with the suit, at least in federal court.

The First Amendment claim fails under Garcetti and the patronage cases. Accepting that DeSantis retaliated for Warren's expression and nothing he did in office, Warren is a policymaking official and he spoke as part of his formal job duties; the First Amendment does not protect such speech from employment consequences. DeSantis is not Warren's "boss" and that Warren owes his job to the county voters and not to DeSantis or anyone under DeSantis' control. But DeSantis enjoys a (limited) supervisory role over Warren. Job-related speech--a promise as to how he intends to perform his official functions--is not protected as a basis for suspension if it constitutes misfeasance, neglect of duty, or incompetence. If a policy-level employee can be fired for cause for job-related speech without First Amendment recourse, a person can be suspended for job-related speech that provides a legal basis for removal without First Amendment recourse.

Warren's real argument is that his speech cannot constitute misfeasance, neglect, or incompetence. That is a question of state law that a federal court will not (and arguably should not) touch. This is a paradigmatic Pullman abstention case--if there were a good First Amendment claim, it can be mooted by an open-and-unresolved state law issue of whether Warren's conduct met the state-constitutional standard* for removal, which a state court should resolve in the first instance. At worst, I would expect the district court to certify the state issue to the Florida Supreme Court. Pullman abstention and certification are disfavored in First Amendment cases because of the chilling effect in the litigation delay, but Warren's First Amendment claim is  weak and the state issues are uniquely central and dispositive. Of course, Warren does not want to be in state court, especially not the Florida Supreme Court. But that is why we have these doctrines.

[*] Federal courts do not abstain from federal constitutional issues in deference to a parallel state constitutional issue. They do abstain in deference to a unique state constitutional issue.

I do not know much about Warren, but he appears to have political aspirations and is willing to take on the current state power. Which is great. But political fights are no more proper in federal court when undertaken by a politician I agree with for a cause I support.

Update: A reader offers another reason the Court cannot hear this case--a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 or Ex parte Young claim for a violation of state law and a federal court cannot order state officials to follow state law.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 18, 2022 at 09:10 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Abortion and state-created danger

Imagine a pregnant person in a state (Missouri and Ohio seem the current leading examples) in which doctors and hospitals have interpreted  state law to require an emergency to escalate before an abortion can be performed under a life or extreme-disability exception. The doctor believes that an abortion is necessary but the situation is not emergent and as she understands the law, abortion is permitted to handle imminent death or disability, not likely; the doctor waits until the woman suffers further complications, then performs the procedure. Could the woman make a claim against state officials for any harm in waiting for her condition to worsen?

State-created danger establishes substantive due process liability for third-party harms where government takes affirmative action that subjects an individual to new or greater danger at the hands of third persons or circumstances, in a way that shocks the conscience (either because done with intent to injury or deliberately indifferent to an injured person's rights). Here we have government action in the enactment and potential enforcement of state laws against doctors who perform abortions. That state action increases the danger to patients at the hands of circumstances (their medical condition) by affecting treatment--doctors do not act on their medical judgment out of fear of prosecution, causing  the patient's condition to worsen. Causing doctors to allow patients' condition to worsen before treatment shocks the conscience. Threatening enforcement shows deliberate indifference knowing that enforcement affects doctors' actions in a way that endangers patients. Going one step further, could a doctor (using third-party standing) sue for injunctive relief, showing that these laws affect their medical judgment, causing harm to many women, and therefore the state law is constitutionally invalid?

My (imperfect) analogy is lawsuits challenging municipal ordinances that impose consequences on landlords (fines, loss of license) whose tenants have too many disturbing-the-peace 911 calls (including calls from domestic-violence victims). Plaintiffs have argued that the laws make them more vulnerable to abuse by domestic partners because less willing to call 911 out of fear that their landlord will evict them to avoid the consequences for multiple calls. The suits that have been brought have settled, so no court has passed on the theory.

I admit this would be a tough sell, especially in a pre-enforcement action. It might be tough to limit to abortion/health care. Would it open the door to a claim against the state for raising the speed limit to 70, on the theory of "you knew people would drive faster and less safely, making me more vulnerable to a reckless driver." State officials could argue that they are not deliberately indifferent to the pregnant women but trying to protect fetal life.

Still, as abortion-rights activists look for legal theories to avoid the worst effects of Dobbs, it might be a theory worth pursuing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 7, 2022 at 11:57 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Facial invalidity and universality

The concept of facial invalidity confounds the universal-remedy debate. The argument goes that if a court declares a law facially invalid--invalid as to all persons, beyond the plaintiff--then it must be able to enjoin enforcement as to all persons, beyond the plaintiff. The response rests on the judgment/opinion distinction. The judgment remains limited to the parties, because that is all a court can do. The opinion, explaining why the law cannot be constitutionally enforced against anyone else, has precedential effect--telling government and the courts what must (if binding precedent) happen in the next case if the government attempts to enforce. The executive may, in its departmentalist discretion, take that chance, although precedent tells him the state will lose in court. But a court cannot "invalidate" a law, therefore it certainly cannot "facially invalidate" a law.

The Second Circuit displays this confusion in Picard v. Magliano, a challenge to a state law prohibiting certain protests within 200 feet of a courthouse. The district court declared the law facially invalid and issued a (what I label) a universal injunction, prohibiting all enforcement of the law. The Second Circuit declared the law invalid as to the plaintiff (who wanted to hand out flyers about jury nullification), which the state conceded, and affirmed the injunction prohibiting enforcement of the law against him. But it declared that the law was not facially invalid because it was capable of constitutional application, thereby vacating the injunction prohibiting enforcement beyond the plaintiff.

That last move makes no sense because the initial injunction makes no sense. The district court never should have enjoined enforcement beyond the plaintiff and the Second Circuit should have narrowed the injunction for that reason. The facial validity of the law is about the scope of precedent and future enforcement.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 28, 2022 at 11:17 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Undermining judicial review

In my post on California's SB 1327, I noted Ilya Somin's post . He quoted the ACLU's May letter objecting to the proposal, in which it said the bill "creates an end run around the essential function of the courts to ensure that constitutional rights are protected."

This criticism--and it is a common one--misunderstands the procedural point. These laws do not eliminate judicial review; they shift its posture. Pre-enforcement offensive review is unavailable, pushing rights-holders into a defensive posture. A rights-holder must violate the law, get sued, and raise her constitutional right as a defense to liability. This action will begin and remain in state court, with (discretionary) SCOTUS review at the end of the process. This is recognizable as judicial review--a court passing on the constitutional validity of a law and determining whether it can be enforced--and allows courts "to ensure that constitutional rights are protected." It is wrong to say otherwise.

The problem with these laws--if there is one--is not that they bar judicial review, but that they require a less-preferable or less-ideal form of judicial review. Those who reject parity between state and federal courts do not like that litigation will begin in state court and that SCOTUS's discretionary jurisdiction may mean no federal forum. Rights-holders must "act at their peril" by violating the law and getting sued to obtain review, something they may choose not to do out of fear of liability. That creates a substantive problem--the loss of constitutionally protected activity. And it creates a procedural problem--the absence of statutory violations means "any person" will not sue, which mean the rights-holder has no opportunity for judicial review. The rights-holder also may be unable to obtain necessary binding precedent when litigating defensively. If the trial court dismisses on constitutional grounds, "any person" may choose not to appeal, taking his loss and going home until the next lawsuit, while leaving the rights-holder free from liability now but fearing the next lawsuit. Doug Laycock argued that offensive litigation provides three unique benefits--preliminary relief, prospective relief (beyond precedent), and class-wide relief--not available in defending a single suit.

These are valid criticisms of SB8/SB1327-type laws. But critics and advocates do not capture them through the simplistic "this prevents judicial review." Critics must explain why the model of judicial review the law allows is inferior and insufficient to offensive pre-enforcement litigation. Further, they must explain not why offensive pre-enforcement litigation is better, but why it is constitutionally necessary. And they must explain not why defensive litigation is worse, but why it is constitutionally insufficient. Screaming about "end runs" around judicial review does not make that case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 23, 2022 at 04:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

California goes full SB8 on firearms, sort of

SB 1327, signed by Gov. Newsom on Friday, prohibits distribution and sale of assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, or unserialized firearms, as well as selling to people under 21. The bill prohibits public enforcement of these provisions and creates a private right of action that copies the elements of SB8--$10,000 statutory damages per firearm, injunctive relief, and attorneys fees; no fees for defendants; limited affirmative defenses.

California got the procedure right (much to my surprise), in making private enforcement exclusive and prohibiting public enforcement. The conversation around SB8 and copycats has focused on private enforcement as this powerful weapon ("bounty hunters" makes a great headline and political talking point, as someone pointed out on a listserv), as if private enforcement alone creates the bind for rights-holder that SB8 did. Private enforcement must be exclusive, otherwise rights-holders can pursue offensive pre-enforcement litigation against the responsible executive.

I am not sure how much effect this will have, beyond symbolism ("the left can play the same games as the right"). The law may not be constitutionally invalid--do the recent cases mean that states cannot prohibit any firearms, regardless of nature? The law certainly is not blatantly unconstitutional (if there is such a concept); no binding SCOTUS precedent establishes that the sale and manufacture of assault weapons or unserialized handguns is protected by the Second Amendment. The law does not target possession of assault weapons or subject owners to private suits for possessing absent an intent to give the weapon to someone else. The prohibited weapons are less pervasive and less at the core of "Second Amendment activity" than post-six-week abortions; the latter represented 90 % of Texas abortions, whereeas assault weapons are already prohibited by California law. Suits under this law are less likely to substantially disrupt ongoing seller or buyer activity.

To the extent sellers believe the First Amendment protects unregulated purchases (and thus sales) of assault weapons, this law may not hamstring them in challenging it. A seller could challenge the criminal prohibition in a pre-enforcement action against the government, obtain (it hopes) favorable precedent, then use that precedent to defend civil suits under the new law (an invalid ban would be as violative of the Second Amendment regardless of enforcement system). Ultimately, this looks less like SB8 and more like California's consumer-protection scheme pre-2004, in which laws prohibiting misleading statements could be enforced by the government or by "any person" civil litigation, leaving possible pre-enforcement offensive litigation in place.

I think the real "lefty" answer to SB8 is the one Rocky and I hypothesized--a prohibition on racist speech, exclusively privately enforced. That would reach a wide swath of likely protected activity in the way SB8 did, without allowing for pre-enforcement judicial review.

Immediate Update: Ilya Somin has thoughts. He argues the scope of potential defendants is quite broad and thus the law could have more effect than I suggest.  And he continues to urge that offensive litigation should be available against the sheriff who would enforce any judgment (we argued this fails for the same reason as the clerks-and-judges theory). Although to the extent one of the conservative justices would abandon procedural principle when the threatened substantive right is one they like, Ilya provides them the path.*

[*] To be clear, I am not accusing Ilya of inconsistency--he made the same argument about SB8 as about SB 1327. I am suggesting one of the WWH majority could use this to put a fig leaf over inconsistency

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 23, 2022 at 03:53 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

JOTWELL: Wasserman on Clopton on catch-and-kill jurisdiction

I have the new Courts Law essay, reviewing Zachary D. Clopton, Catch and Kill Jurisidiction (Mich. L. Rev., forthcoming), which describes a category of cases in which federal courts pull cases out of state court through expansive federal jurisdiction, then dismiss on uniquely federal non-merits bases. For further reading, see the response forthcoming in Mich. L. Rev. Online.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 21, 2022 at 12:23 PM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 18, 2022

Disinformation & Defamation: A Loss for Veritas, A Strike for Truth?

A variety of defamation lawsuits connected to the discredited allegations of massive election fraud in the 2020 presidential election (sometimes called the "Big Lie") are proceeding to discovery. These suits not only seek to vindicate the reputations of the plaintiffs accused of participating in election fraud; they also seek to strike back against the campaign of disinformation underpinning the Big Lie.  For example, Dominion Voting Systems’ suits against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell; former Overtock CEO Patrick Byrne; Newsmax; and Fox Corporation have all gotten the green light to proceed. Smartmatic, another voting systems company, is also proceeding with a number of separate defamation suits. 

Now another defamation case involving accusations of election fraud joins them, this time involving an Erie, Pennsylvania postmaster. A Pennsylvania trial court has held in Weisenbach v. Project Veritas that discovery can proceed against Project Veritas, its founder James O'Keefe, III, and postal employee Richard Hopkins. The postal employee, Hopkins, accused Erie Postmaster Robert Weisenbach of backdating mail-in ballots during the 2020 presidential election. Hopkins based his accusations, which were published by Project Veritas and O'Keefe, on a conversation he supposedly overheard between Weisenbach and another postal supervisor. After the initial publication of these accusations, Hopkins was interviewed by the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General. Hopkins recanted his accusations during the interview, but later told Project Veritas he was coerced into doing so. Despite the questionable reliability of Hopkins' accusations, Project Veritas kept publishing them, and they were picked up and repeated by a number of Trump partisans and Trump himself. Meanwhile, the accused Postmaster Weisenbach, who was actually a registered Republican and Trump voter, had to flee his home. Hopkins lost his job with the postal service, but he was able to solicit, through online crowdfunding, hundreds of thousands of dollars from Project Veritas readers. A report of the Office of Inspector General found no evidence supporting Hopkins' allegations, but Project Veritas did not retract them. Postmaster Weisenbach sued Hopkins, O'Keefe, and Project Veritas for defamation and concerted tortious activity.

Defendants filed "Preliminary Objections" in the nature of a demurrer to the Postmaster Weisenbach's complaint. The judge overruled the objections, meaning the case against defendants proceeds to discovery. 

Defendant Hopkins' first objection was jurisdictional. He contended that the Federal Tort Claims Act gives exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts for claims made against federal employees acting in the scope of their employment. In other words, Hopkins argued that he made his allegations to Veritas and O'Keefe about the Postmaster Weisenbach while acting within the scope of his federal employment. The trial judge, however, found that Plaintiff's Complaint sufficiently pleaded that Hopkins made his statements to Project Veritas outside the scope of his employment and that he "was driven by financial gain and a desire to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the election and the integrity of his employer." The court found the complaint sufficiently alleged that Hopkins was not acting in the scope of his employment because he was not making the allegations to achieve his employers' "ultimate objective of delivering the mail, but more in the nature of a personal errand." 

Defendants' second objection went to the sufficiency of the Plaintiff's pleading of defamation and concerted tortious activity. The judge found the allegations that Plaintiff had engaged in election fraud "because he was a Trump hater" capable of a defamatory meaning. The judge's phrasing is interesting, because it is not normally defamatory to misattribute someone's political party. The court indicated that Plaintiff alleged he can prove that he is not a "Trump hater," but it is unclear whether what is defamatory in the Plaintiff's allegation is the misattribution of political party or the allegation of illicit motive for backdating mail-in ballots. Regardless, the accusation of committing election fraud was clearly capable of a defamatory meaning! The court also rejected the argument that Project Veritas' allegations were mere hyperbole uttered online in the heat of an election contest, stating that consideration of context might by appropriate at trial but is inappropriate at the pleading stage, when all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the Plaintiff's favor. 

The judges also found the Postmaster's allegations that Hopkins, Veritas, and O'Keefe "conspired" to defame him sufficient to support his substantial assistance or "aiding and abetting" claim. The court wrote: "Count III indicates a laundry list of ways in which Project Veritas and O'Keefe substantially assisted Hopkins, including through encouragement to come forward, the drafting of the affidavit, instructions on how to profit from the crowdfunding account, keeping lawyers on retainer to defend Hopkins, and consulting with Hopkins on a daily basis, all with the common goal of defaming Weisenbach." The judge refers to the this as "concerted 'character assassination,'" rather than journalistic reliance on an inside source. 

Finally, the court held that regardless of whether a Postmaster is a public official, the Plaintiff's complaint adequately pled actual malice as to all defendants. The Complaint alleged that Project Veritas drafted Hopkins' affidavit, encouraged and aided him to solicit donations through online crowdsourcing, flew him to New York to be interviewed, and got him legal counsel.  The Complaint also alleged that Project Veritas initially claimed they had "multiple sources" for their false accusations. Moreover, Project Veritas "doubled down" after Hopkins recanted his story. Even after the Postal Service Inspector General issued a report stating there was no evidence the Postmaster had engaged in backdating, Project Veritas would not retract their accusations. Thus, the judge concluded: "Taken together, these facts, if ultimately proven, could be credited as circumstantial evidence that Project Veritas and O 'Keefe fabricated evidence to bolster their story, or at least harbored serious doubts as to the truth of Hopkins' claims." The judge also stated that a jury might find actual malice if it found, consistently with Plaintiff's averments, that Project Veritas had developed a pre-conceived story line and solicited information to fit based on a desire to "erode confidence in the security of mail-in voting."  The court therefore concluded that the Postmaster's "mosaic of averments" related to Project Veritas' fabrication of evidence, deliberate avoidance of truth, and "ulterior motive for publishing" constituted sufficient facts "such that a jury could eventually conclude by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged defamatory statements were published with actual malice." The judge acknowledged that Project Veritas' arguments that "their reporting 'had to be done quickly'" in the election context would be relevant to the ultimate determination of actual malice but was not relevant at the pleading stage. 

The judge also found sufficient the Complaint's allegations as to Hopkins' actual malice. This issue was straightforward, given the allegations that Hopkins overheard and deliberately misconstrued an ambiguous conversation, recanted his initial allegations, and then benefitted financially from his tale. 

The judge concluded by acknowledging the that the Supreme Court's First Amendment decisions strike a balance between "the need for a vigorous and uninhibited press and the legitimate interest
in redressing wrongful injury." He nonetheless noted: "The constitutional deck is not all stacked to one side."  Despite being "mindful of the chill that lawsuits such as this may have on our press freedoms," the judge allowed Weisenbach's claims to withstand Defendants' demurrers, stating "For now, 'the balance between the needs of the press and the individual's claim to compensation for wrongful injury' weighs in favor of the Plaintiff."

This suit is being brought on Weisenbach's behalf by Protect Democracy, which has a press release about the case here

 

 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on July 18, 2022 at 12:28 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky, Torts | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, July 15, 2022

Snap Relocation

Monet v. Tesla, from ND Cal. This is a products-liability claim alleging defects in Tesla's "autopilot" system. The plaintiffs are Arizona citizens. When the lawsuit was filed on November 16, 2021, Tesla was incorporated in DE and headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. On December 1, 2021, Tesla famously moved its headquarters to Texas. On January 4, 2022, plaintiffs served Texas. Tesla removed on February 2, 2022.

Plaintiffs moved to remand, citing the forum-defendant rule. The court denied remand, relying on § 1441(b)(2)'s "properly joined and served" language. According to the court, the forum-defendant rule bars removal when the defendant is local at the time of service and removal. It further said that the rule that citizenship is determined at the time of filing applies to determining whether there is diversity jurisdiction (which is undoubtedly the case here, regardless of where Tesla has its headquarters), but not to the non-jurisdictional limit of § 1441(b)(2).

This makes no sense.

Diversity jurisdiction locks citizenship at the time of filing; diversity removal should follow that. A case is removable if it could have been filed in federal court in the first instance, which is determined by citizenship at the time of filing. Post-filing citizenship changes cannot create or destroy federal jurisdiction or make a case removable that had been non-removable for lack of jurisdiction. It should follow that post-filing citizenship changes should not make removable a case that was not removable for non-jurisdictional reasons, such as presence of a forum defendant. The time-of-filing rules eliminate the incentive to play citizenship games to create or eliminate jurisdiction, as well as simplifying the jurisdictional inquiry by focusing on one point in time. Tesla obviously did not move to Texas to make this case removable. But post-filing changes should remain irrelevant, both to avoid the temptation and to simplify the analysis.

The court errs in reading "properly joined and served" language of § 1441(b)(2) to override the time-of-filing rule. The forum-defendant rule prohibits removal when there is a forum defendant; whether a defendant is a forum citizen should be measured at the time of filing, along with all other citizenship determinations. The "properly joined and served" language in § 1441(b)(2) checks a particular type of plaintiff gamesmanship--naming but not proceeding against a straw forum defendant and denying removal to the non-forum real litigation targets. But it does so by allowing the parties to ignore the unserved forum defendant in removing, not by allowing the forum defendant to change citizenship in a way forbidden in all other contexts. Stated differently, the "and served" language punishes the plaintiff for gamesmanship or bad litigation strategy in failing to serve the local defendant, by allowing service despite the local;s presence; it does not give one otherwise-disfavored defendant a unique opportunity, available to no other party, to change its citizenship post-filing to allow otherwise-prohibited removal. And, of course, no gamesmanship could have been at work here, since Tesla is the sole defendant, thus not a strawman, and plaintiffs obviously intended to proceed against it.

The court purports to rely on binding 9th Circuit authority for the proposition that removal is proper where the defendant was not a forum citizen at the time of removal. But in Spencer, the sole non-local defendant removed; once in federal court, the plaintiff sought to add a local defendant, then argued that the case must be remanded because it now included a local defendant. The 9th Circuit held, properly, that post-removal changes to the parties that do not destroy complete diversity do not require remand. But the changes in Spencer involved the addition of a new party, not changes to the citizenship of existing parties that are ignored in other contexts.

Finally, note that the court's approach could affect personal jurisdiction. Because Tesla had its PPB in California, it was subject to general jurisdiction there (being sued where it is essentially at home). But would this post-filing citizenship change also eliminate general jurisdiction, because Tesla no longer is essentially at home in California? It should not matter in this case, since there should be specific jurisdiction because the car was likely designed and/or manufactured in California. But on different facts, the court's approach to post-filing citizenship changes can complicate jurisdictional issues.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2022 at 01:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2022

Florida Anti-Woke lawsuit proceeds, standing is weird

The district court denied (mostly) a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, finding most plaintiffs had pleaded (just barely) enough facts. In particular, the court allowed the claims by a University of Central Florida professor to proceed, rejecting the argument that profs speak as the government when teaching and so lack First Amendment for their classroom speech. (For the moment--the court acknowledged that its conclusion rested on 11th Circuit precedent that may not be long for this world). This decision comes on the heels of the district court denying preliminary injunctions as to most plaintiffs because they lack standing.

This just proves the insanity of treating standing as a jurisdictional doctrine independent of merits. If it is truly a jurisdictional issue, it must be proven by evidence, not based on the pleadings. Moreover, in denying the PI, the court decided that plaintiffs had not shown (through evidence beyond the pleadings) standing. It should not matter that plaintiffs have (barely) pleaded it if the court said they cannot prove it. For example, the court denied dismissal of the rising kindergartner's claim, even though it previously said the kindergartner had not shown an injury because the kindergarten curriculum did not include  any statutorily proscribed material.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 11, 2022 at 01:00 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Some jurisdictionality in Biden v. Texas

I do not do Ad Law or Immigration, so I do not much to say on the merits of Biden v. Texas. But there was some jurisdictionality thrown in, which is worth discussing.

The district court had enjoined enforcement of the Biden rescission, in violation of § 1252(f)(1), which deprives lower courts (but not SCOTUS) of"jurisdiction or authority to enjoin or restraint the operation" of certain provisions in non-individual cases. The question is whether the district court nevertheless had jurisdiction over the action as a whole, even if it could not issue the remedy it did. The majority said it did, because § 1252(f)(1) limited the court's remedial power but not its subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. Although § 1252(f)(1) uses the word jurisdiction, jurisdiction to issue a remedy is different from subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate. Justice Barrett dissented for Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.* She rejected the sharp distinction between SMJ and remedial authority, because SMJ often connects to the remedy, citing examples of the amount-in-controversy in § 1332 and redressability in standing.

[*] Sort of. The three joined all but the first sentence reading "I agree with the Court's analysis of the merits--but not with its decision to reach them." Meanwhile, Barrett did not join Alito's dissent to the merits.

Obviously, I agree with the majority. Remedies, like the merits, should be independent of adjudicative jurisdiction. The problem is Congress using the word jurisdiction carelessly to refer to available remedies in a case the court can hear. I am glad the Court read through it. As to Barrett's examples, the amount-in-controversy is not about available remedies but about the size of the case. Meanwhile, the standing example just shows--again--why standing is about merits and not jurisdiction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 30, 2022 at 02:42 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Limiting state-created danger and a different due process violation (Updated)

An interesting Fifth Circuit decision arising from a (notorious-at-the-time) 2015 incident in which a high-school football coach ordered two players to hit the referee. (One guess which Fifth Circuit state produced this case). The district court dismissed the claim against Coach Breed; it read the claim as invoking the state-created-danger theory (Breed increased the danger to the ref by ordering the players to hit him), which the Fifth Circuit does not recognize. The Fifth Circuit reversed, saying this is not an SCD case and therefore the plaintiff may have a viable due process claim on a different theory. Unfortunately, the path and conclusion are incoherent.

The court said SCD applies when the state actor "creates" a dangerous situation resulting in harm (to conditions or to third parties), but this does not include when the state actor orders or compels the third parties to engage in some conduct. This is a fine distinction that I am not sure works. What if Breed had told the players "unless you get completely out of control, Coach and I will not punish you?" if you hit the ref. Or what if the players discussed their plan to hit the ref while Breed was present and Breed said nothing, nodded in approval, or gave verbal assent ("OK")? Each of those facts can establish SCD, because the state actor creates or enhances the danger to the plaintiff by emboldening third parties by "approving" or "condoning" third-party misconduct or  by sending a message that a third-party can act with impunity. I do not see a meaningful difference between those cases and a direct command, order, or compulsion; if the former must be addressed as SCD (and rejected in the Fifth Circuit), so must the latter.

The court offered the difference that SCD requires deliberate indifference, while the claim here involves intentional harm. But DI is the legal standard and can be satisfied by the higher mens rea of intent to cause harm. And conduct short of a command can be done with the intention to inflict harm; the cops in Dwares wanted, if not intended, the skinheads to attack the protesters, even if they did not order them to attack.

If this is not an SCD case, what is the theory of liability? What did Breed* do that violates due process besides creating a dangerous condition? Is the act of ordering or commanding third persons to engage in misconduct an independent due process violation? If so, we are back to why orders/commands are different than approval and condonations; if the former are some unique violation independent, why not the latter, in which case what is left of SCD? Is it limited to orders to assault someone? But many SCD cases involve third-party assaults. Why is a command to third parties to assault different than approving a third-party assault (again, see Dwares). We return to that unexplained and unworkable distinction between ordering third-party misconduct and approving or condoning it.

[*] The court attempts to defend the distinction by arguing that Breed acted under color when he ordered the players to act, relying on close-nexus cases. But no one doubts that and it is beside the point. Those cases are about when private actors are deemed under color; they have nothing to do with whether the government actors who ordered the conduct are under color. In fact, it is beyond dispute that Breed acted under color--a government employee acting within his official position "on the clock" while performing his formal government duties. (Maybe if he had done this during the few minutes between the post-game handshake and getting on the bus he would have more luck).

The Fifth Circuit is the only court of appeals not to recognize SCD. I am all for ways around that problem. But some coherence would be nice.

Update: Following a series of email exchanges with a reader, I might see a workable basis for a distinction. It combines the under-color and liability elements and goes something like this: If the connection between the government actor and the private actor is sufficiently close that it places the private actor under color and subjects him to § 1983 suit**, the claim against the government actor rests on a direct violation; the government actor is, in essence, acting through his agent. If the connection is not sufficiently close as to to place the private actor under color, the government actor's liability must be based on SCD--the third party acted on his own as a private person, but the government actor did something to create or worsen the risk to the plaintiff at the third party's hands.

[**] If the plaintiff were to choose to sue him. Again, the ref did not sue the players here.

Thus, the coach is directly liable for ordering the players to hit the ref. He would be liable on an SCD theory if he  stood by and did nothing while the players discussed and planned to hit the ref. And we can have a debate about the case in which the coach said "we will not punish you if you hit the ref."

Not sure I buy it, but it makes some logical sense.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 29, 2022 at 11:06 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

More zombie laws and litigation strategy

Dobbs has created a new puzzle with respect to zombie laws that I had not considered. It is usually obvious when a law has been de-zombified--the judicial constitutional precedent under which that law is invalid changed. Dobbs thus de-zombifies all abortion laws (subject perhaps to rational-basis scrutiny for extreme laws). But sometimes it is less obvious, because the Court suggests de-zombification through its reasoning and analysis, although the precise issue was not before the Court. So does the logic and reasoning of Dobbs, along with Thomas' concurrence, de-zombify other laws violating other substantive-due-process rights that it cast into (at least) some doubt?

Relatedly, how does that affect the posture in which the constitutional question will be litigated and resolved? Does the logic of Dobbs render a threat of renewed enforcement sufficiently likely or imminent to allow offensive pre-enforcement litigation to determine the state of judicial precedent and the constitutional validity and enforceability of the law. (Courts would call this whether the rights holder can show a sufficiently imminent injury for standing; I argue we should call this whether a constitutional violation has occurred or is likely to occur). Strict adherence to imminence (which courts follow for everything other than the First Amendment) limits offensive litigation, requiring rights holders to await actual renewed enforcementand challenge the law defensively.* At a minimum, they must wait longer to see if the state expresses some intent to renew enforcement based on its reading of Dobbs.

[*] Ex parte Young says rights holders need not wait, that it is unfair to force rights holders to violate the law at their peril and risk liability as a condition of litigating their constitutional rights. How to square that with Whole Women's Health, which I argue was correct? The problem in WWH was the lack of a target defendant and a governmental enforcer to enjoin.

Take Texas's sodomy law, which remains on the books. It is at least an open issue requiring new litigation whether constitutional precedent must change because Lawrence is incompatible with Dobbs. The question is whether that is sufficient to allow offensive pre-enforcement litigation or whether rights holders need some greater indication that the state intends to resume enforcing that law. Stated differently, can rights-holders, having read Dobbs and identified an open constitutional issue, initiate offensive litigation to declare the state of precedent and determine whether the sodomy law remains constitutionally invalid and unenforceable? Can Texas defeat such offensive litigation by insisting that it takes the Dobbs majority at its word, that it sees Lawrence as good law, and that it knows it cannot successfully enforce the law and has no intent to do so?

Does the answer change when the zombie post-dates the apparent change in precedent? Could that rights holder show imminence of enforcement more readily if the legislature enacts a new zombie? Returning to Texas' sodomy law--suppose the Texas legislature re-enacts a sodomy law post-Dobbs; does that allow a rights holder to argue that the state reads Dobbs as calling Lawrence into doubt and thus intends to enforce the new law (otherwise, why would it have bothered enacting it).

A separate strategic question: Should rights holders push the issue of what Dobbs did to Lawrence now or should they wait to see what states do? On one hand, there may be a benefit to striking now. People are paying attention and discussing Dobbs' effect on other rights; the charge of hypocrisy would land with the public (not that the Justices care) if the Court follows Dobbs to overrule Lawrence two years after insisting it would not. On the other, this is a frisky majority and rights holders may be wise not to test what it is willing to do.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 26, 2022 at 04:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Zombie Laws

We have a real-time illustration of zombie laws and judicial departmentalism. A zombie law remains, precedent changes, and new precedent reanimates the zombie, at least prospectively.* Texas announced it will begin enforcing its pre-Roe zombie, prompting clinics in the state to cease all abortions. This chart shows three other states with an intent to enforce zombies, although Wisconsin seems less unlikely to enforce.

[*] Jonathan Mitchell argues that retroactive application would be permissible. I doubt states will try that.

Meanwhile, other states are enjoined from enforcing abortion restrictions. Those states move to dissolve the injunction, citing Dobbs as the changed legal circumstance, and the district court will grant the injunction, making those laws enforceable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2022 at 07:43 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thoughts on fearing for the darkness

Some random thoughts on a legal earthquake.

• The opinion appears substantively unchanged from the leaked draft, other than responding to the other opinions and obvious proofreading. Clearly Kavanaugh was the Chief's target. We can read his concurrence as trying to carve a gentle and less-provocative middle ground between the majority's muscular overruling and the Chief's decide-nothing-more.

• This day has been coming like a slow-moving train since Election Night 2016, if not Election Night 2014 (when the Republicans regained the Senate and Justice Ginsburg had not resigned). I recommend Orin Kerr's Twitter thread that captures how Democrats/abortion-rights supporters went from "Garland-as-fifth-vote-to-secure-Roe" to Dobbs in less than a decade. Anyone (*cough* Susan Collins) who did not recognize this day as inevitable since Election Night 2016--or at least since Kennedy's resignation--is naive or ignorant (or, as someone suggested, lying about believing those assurances).

• Did the leak work? If the goal was to hold a shaky majority, yes; if the goal was to pressure someone to leave the majority, no. If the goal was to soften the opinion's effects by creating a distracting process story or softening the sting of the opinion, no; people seem pretty worked up and ready to protest and act, even if they saw this coming. It depends on if we find out who the leaker is and why they leaked.

• There is no easy answer to what happens next, but some things to watch:

    1) How much did this decision embolden anti-choice states? Do they ban abortion without exception or do they allow exceptions (life, health, rape, incest, a month of leeway)? Do they resume enforcing restrictive pre-Roe zombies? Do they go after pregnant people or only providers? Do they go after those who provide information and funding? How aggressively will prosecutors investigate and prosecute miscarriages and other "bad" behavior by pregnant people?

        Consider Arkansas' (now-valid) trigger law banning abortion with only a life-of-the-mother exception. Governor Asa Hutchinson suggested the state might add a rape-and-incest exception if Roe is overruled. This is a version of the dog-catching-the-car. States have performatively enacted extreme laws that would hurt millions, knowing they were unenforceable but allowed for political points. Now that those extreme laws are enforceable, Hutchinson realizes the immorality or unpopularity of the extreme and might walk it walk it back. Do other states follow suit and show restraint when their choices have real effects on real people or do they continue the race to the bottom because they can?

    2) Relatedly, does Dobbs embolden those states to go after the other rights that conservatives hate as much as abortion--same-sex marriage, contraception, sex? The assurances from Alito and Kavanaugh (and many who criticized Steve Vladeck and Leah Litman) focus on the wrong actors at the wrong time, at least for the moment. The action occurs in two other forums first: 1) Will states push the envelope in other areas--will they enact and enforce new laws banning purchase and use of contraception or whether states will begin enforcing existing zombie laws prohibiting sodomy (the Texas law at issue in Lawrence remains on the books) or same-sex marriage (same in many states); 2) What will restless lower-court judges do with the signal from Dobbs and from Thomas' concurrence if states get frisky--it is not hard to imagine a panel of the Fifth Circuit declaring valid a Louisiana ban on certain contraception. These steps are necessary before we see what the Justices will do. And that process could take several years, during which the make-up of the Court changes or people stop paying attention to Dobbs' "abortion-is-different" promises.

    3) It is nonsense to believe the courts are out of this area. The dissent shows why, as does this paper by David Cohen, Greer Donley, and Rachel Rebouche. These controversies extend beyond substantive due process to free speech, the right to travel, and other non-disfavored rights implicated in an abortion context. Scalia warned about the "abortion ad hoc nullifcation machine," in which the connection to abortion limits other, supposedly stronger rights (he complained about restrictions on clinic protesters). Will we see that in reverse--will the connection of other rights to the no-longer-favored abortion context limit those other rights? For example, will the Court allow states to sanction political expression concerning illegal-in-a-state abortions, remaining "scrupulously neutral" about abortion and allowing states to limit certain speech in the name of limiting (unprotected) abortion? Alito and Thomas have supported restrictions on speech with which they disagree; will others follow suit?

    4) How much teeth does rational-basis review have here, if a state goes to the extreme? Is it unreasonable to make a pregnant woman endanger her life or health in favor of a fetus? Is there any other context in which the law requires an ordinary person to risk her life for another?

• Biden's statement attempted to create a campaign issue. He called on Congress to codify Roe (whatever that means). He add that if Congress lacks the votes to do that (which it does), people must elect representatives who will, making. The question is how politically salient this is for the (apparent majorities) who support reproductive freedom--can the issue galvanize supporters to turn out in large numbers in the way it galvanizes opponents? Supporters have had Roe as the guardrail for 50 years. Does its actual loss awaken everyone to the ballot in a way its threatened loss (which was obvious in 2016) did not?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 24, 2022 at 04:14 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

§ 1983 giveth, § 1983 taketh away

Everyone will be talking about the gun case and the prospect that, given this Court's direction, it will soon to be easier to wave a gun in public than to engage in some speech in public. So let me focus on two cases about the scope of § 1983.

Nance v. Ward (Kagan for the Chief, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kavanaugh) that a prisoner can use § 1983 to challenge manner of execution where the plaintiff's proposed execution method is unavailable under state law and would require the state to change its law. The need to change state law or regulations does not necessarily prevent the state from executing the plaintiff (the touchstone for Heck cases) but delays the execution until the state brings its law into compliance with the Constitution. Many § 1983 claims declare state law invalid and send it "back to the drawing board" to amend the law to comport with the Constitution (as judicially interpreted). Challenges to conditions of confinement can brought through § 1983 and those claims operate like challenges to method of execution--both challenge the implementation of a sentence (death or incarceration) and both may compel changes to state law (e.g., challenges to laws limiting the number of prison doctors or the regulations for prison population) to remedy that violation.

Vega v. Tekoh (Alito for the Chief, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett) held that Miranda violations cannot form the basis for § 1983 claims for damages. The point of deparure, unsurprisingly, is whether Miranda is a constitutional rule and thus a "right . . . secured by the Constitution and laws." The majority describes it as a constitutional prophylactic rule but not the Constitution itself, while the dissent (Kagan for Breyer and Sotomayor) argues that the rule is constitutionally grounded (per Dickerson) even if it secures a deeper constitutional commitment against compulsion. Miranda thus is enforceable only defensively, as a basis to suppress evidence in the criminal proceeding.

I confess to not finding this case a huge deal for a couple of reasons, even as an another instance (See Egbert) of the Court eliminating ex post remedies for constitutional violations. Maybe I am missing things. First, Miranda is an odd fit for a § 1983 damages claim against the police officer who took the unwarned statement because the violation is complete only if the statement is offered by the immune non-party prosecutor and accepted by the immune non-party judge. Thus the officer's constitutional liability turns on the actions of two other people. Assuming the officer did not use coercion or force, he did nothing "wrong" unless someone else does something.

Second, I do not understand why this plaintiff does not lose on issue-preclusion grounds. He twice moved to suppress his statements on Miranda grounds and the state trial court twice rejected his arguments. Unless there is something I do not know about California preclusion law, the state court's resolution of the Miranda issue should be preclusive in the § 1983 action. This point also undermines the majority's argument as to why a prophylactic rule is not a "law" for § 1983 purposes. The Court identified numerous problems--judicial economy, conflicting decisions, and federal review of the prior state decision admitting the evidence--weighing against allowing damages suits over even a prophylactic Miranda. But the whole point of  Allen is that the federal court in the subsequent § 1983 action does not review the state court; it is bound by the state court determination and then applies it to the new claim for damages. There is no concern for conflicting judgments or lack of deference; the federal court is bound by the state court ruling. At least where, as here, the state court finds against the state defendant/federal plaintiff. The conflict arises if the state courts find Miranda was violated and the rights holder sues for damages; preclusion does not apply (because the officer was not a party to the prior suit), so the federal court would have a new bite at finding no violation (Alito's preferred conclusion). What am I missing on this point?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 23, 2022 at 12:12 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

COD is for government

A 5-4 Court held in Shoop v. Twyford that a district court erred in ordering transportation of a prisoner to the hospital under the All Writs Act where the evidence to be obtained at the hospital would not be admissible under AEDPA. A jurisdictional problem popped up at SCOTUS--the transportation order was not final. The majority stated in a "terse" footnote that it was appealable under the collateral order doctrine because it burdens state sovereignty and creates public-safety risks; Justice Breyer dissented for Sotomayor and Kagan to argue this does not meet COD requirements; and Justice Gorsuch argued cert was improvidently granted because the Court did not take the case to extend the doctrine. At the very least, it required more than a footnote.

And this is an expansion, as the court of appeals held that state sovereignty that is implicated by any federal-court order compelling a state to do something. Breyer, likening the order to a discovery order, argues that having the state as appealing party should not convert an otherwise interlocutory order (such as a discovery order) into one subject to COD review.

Of course, the modern collateral-order doctrine is skewed towards appeals by the government as opposed to by private individuals. While not framed as "appeal is proper because this is the government," the unprotectable public interests justifying the COD arise most commonly where the government loses on a uniquely governmental issue--e.g,, individual-officer immunity, sovereign immunity, foreign sovereign immunity, discovery orders affecting foreign sovereign immunity. I do not expect, as Breyer  worries, a regime in which government can appeal a common order that a similarly situated private party cannot appeal; but it is not surprising to see COD review of a unique discovery order that applies only to government parties but never to private parties. For example, an order compelling transportation of a prisoner for discovery purposes applies only to government parties and is appealable; a common order compelling discovery, equally applicable to all parties, is not.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 21, 2022 at 12:33 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Charter schools act under color

So says a sharply divided (especially rhetorically) en banc Fourth Circuit in a challenge to a North Carolina charter school policy requiring female students to wear skirts in furtherance of "chivalric" ideals incorporated into its educational philosophy. A majority holds that the school owner (but not private manager) acts under color and the skirts policy violates Equal Protection and that the owner and manager are liable under Title IX. There are two concurring opinions-0ne joined by the author of the majority and one authored by the author of the majority opinion. There are two dissents, including one by Judge Wilkinson heralding chivalry and alternative education in the face of the institutional forces of educational rigidity. Much pissiness all around.

I expect SCOTUS to take this next term. The decision creates a circuit split with three circuits (1st, 3d, and 9th) that held that charter schools do not act under color, including in making school and student policies. There also is a question of consistency with the one SCOTUS decision holding that education (at least for a segment of problem students) is not a traditional public function.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 15, 2022 at 03:06 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Journalistic malpractice, HPV-in-a-car edition

The underlying details of this case and story are too salacious for the media to resist. But that makes more obvious the wrongness of the coverage.

M.O. and M.B. had sex in M.B.'s car and M.B. infected M.O. with HPV. GEICO, which provided M.B.'s auto insurance, denied coverage and brought a federal declaratory judgment action. An arbitrator awarded M.O. $5.2 million from M.B., and M.O. filed a state-court action to confirm the award; the trial court allowed GEICO to intervene pursuant to statute and confirmed the arbitration award on the same day. GEICO appealed, arguing that the trial court did not allow it to meaningfully participate in the trial court, either to challenge the judgment or to contest its coverage obligation. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the insurer's statutory intervention right did not entitle it any minimal participation. It could have done that by defending the claim (rather than by denying coverage) or it can challenge its obligation to defend  through a DJ action (which is pending in federal court).

The court did not consider, address, or decide that GEICO must pay this award or that (and this is where everyone wants to make jokes) auto insurance covers injuries arising from sexual activity in a car because sex in a car is "normal" use of the vehicle.

Yet here is the result of a Google search for "Geico HPV." Several headlines and stories say the court ordered GEICO to pay or that GEICO must pay, which is not close to correct. Some stories describe the woman winning the award against GEICO (as opposed to her former paramour) and the court of appeals siding with her on her claims against GEICO, also not close. A few headlines hedge by saying GEICO "could" or "may" have to pay, which is more accurate, but the underlying stories get the details of the case wrong. And even those accurate headlines miss the point of this decision.The court did not say the trial court was correct in confirming the award or that M.O. should receive $ 5.2 million because her partner negligently transmitted an STI; neither issue was before it. The court held that GEICO was not entitled to challenge its obligation to pay by intervening in this proceeding and must challenge the duty to indemnify through its federal DJ action. But this decision--the one prompting this media coverage--brings us no closer to resolving the question of GEICO's obligation to pay.

I have read speculation that GEICO is pushing this "can you believe we must pay this absurd award" narrative as a tort-reform maneuver--a car-sex analogue to McDonald's coffee. If so, the media should be doubly ashamed for this journalistic malpractice--not only are they incapable of reading and understanding law and what a case means, they are allowing themselves to be manipulated.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 11, 2022 at 12:04 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Ministerial exemption and the Collateral Order Doctrine

A divided Tenth Circuit holds that denial of summary judgment on ministerial exemption grounds is not subject to immediate review under the Collateral Order Doctrine. The point of departure went to whether the ministerial exemption is a defense against liability or an immunity from suit analogous to qualified immunity. The majority said it is a defense against liability turning on a fact question--whether the plaintiff is a minister; it therefore was not effectively unreviewable on appeal. The dissent argued the exemption is an immunity from all litigation, lost if the defendant must wait to appeal.

Some quick thoughts.

The court divided is over what to do with language in Hosanna-Tabor describing the exemption as  a "bar" to a Title VII suit or claim. But that takes Hosanna's language out of context. The Court distinguished between a limit on the court's jurisdiction and a defense to the merits, defining the exemption (properly) as the latter. The Court did not consider or decide whether this defense was an immunity from suit or a defense against ultimate liability.

The defense-to-suit v. defense-to-liability debate makes no sense and it is too bad the majority and dissent spent so much time on it. As the Court recognized, "virtually every right that could be enforced appropriately by pretrial dismissal might loosely be described as conferring a 'right not to stand trial,'" and every right could be characterized as one or the other. Thus, it is not mere avoidance of trial that matters, but "avoidance of a trial that would imperil a substantial public interest." The question then becomes whether the religious defendant's First Amendment interests are sufficiently substantial and public to merit immediate review.

The other point of departure is whether the ministerial exemption is a question of fact or law. The majority said it is a question of fact--is this employee a minister, as defined. That precludes COD review, which is not available on fact questions, even fact questions going to defenses, notably qualified immunity, that are immediately reviewable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 9, 2022 at 05:24 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Maybe there isn't a big difference between mostly dead and all dead

Like Westley in The Princess Bride, Bivens is mostly dead following today's decision in Egbert v. Boule. Unlike with Westley, I deny any big difference between being mostly dead and all dead. Here is my SCOTUSBlog recap[Update: And a short interview on All Things Considered] I did not expect this from the argument. While not friendly to the plaintiff's claim, the quesioning did not reflect  a desire from six justices to winnow Bivens to nothing--especially after declining to grant cert on whether to overrule Bivens.

But it may as well have. If the new single question in the Bivens analysis is whether there is any reason to believe that Congress is able to decide whether to recognize a cause of action outside of identical facts to Bivens, no new Bivens action is possible, because the answer is always yes. Credit to Gorsuch for being honest about where the analysis and conclusion leads. Meanwhile, without saying so, the Court has essentially granted virtually all federal officers at all levels in virtually all agencies more-or-less absolute immunity from suits for damages for constitutional violations. Maybe something identical to Bivens survives going forward--Fourth Amendment violation, pure law enforcement, no connection to immigration and national security. But not for long. And perhaps not if the agency has (as all agencies do) some internal disciplinary system.

So it is up to Congress to enact something like § 1983 for action under color of federal law, that also keeps in place the many statutory schemes (e.g., CSRA) that operate adjacent to Bivens. Could the changing nature and increased ideological diversity of constitutional claims--e.g., an increasing number of religious-liberty claims--create sufficient bipartisan support for enacting something? Probably not. But that will be the new focus.

I am working on the third edition to my civil rights treatise. The second edition was written in 2017 and published in 2018. I am stunned (and a bit frozen) by how much has changed in that short a period and how much the Bivens and immunity chapters must be rewritten.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2022 at 10:15 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Kevin Spacey is no Elizabeth Taylor

So holds the district court in the federal suit against Kevin Spacey in denying plaintiff's motion to remand. Spacey removed, arguing that he became a Maryland citizen when he began working on House of Cards. Plaintiff moved to remand, arguing that Spacey's homes in Maryland were tied to HoC, were temporary, and owned by shell companies, such that his real domicile was London (where he has been living for the past several years). The opinion illustrates how courts analyze and determine the evidentiary issues around citizenship.

The court also denied Spacey's motion for summary judgment, finding a genuine dispute as to whether Spacey's conduct (grazing Rapp's but while lifting him up, throwing him on the bed, and laying on top of him) qualifies as touching of "intimate parts" for purpose of abuse or sexual desire to bring the claims within the statute-of-limitations revival statute. I am still not convinced that whether something constitutes  an intimate part is a legal question for the court to decide based on the undisputed facts. But the rest of the analysis seems right.

I gave this case as my Civ Pro final last month. I am pleased with how many students got the SJ analysis spot-on.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 7, 2022 at 02:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Bivensing the 13th Amendment

From Logsdon-Smith v. Kentucky. Plaintiffs were sexually abused by a probation/parole officer. They sued the governor and the state for a 13th Amendment violation under § 1983; in response to a motion to dismiss arguing the § 1983 claim was time-barred, they refiled as a direct action under the 13th Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal.

The 13th Amendment is not directly enforceable because § 1983 exists as the exclusive mechanism for enforcing that provision against state actors; Congress has enacted laws (including § 1983) to enforce the 13th Amendment; and the 13th Amendment provides for congressional enforcement and precludes an implied right of action, unlike those rights enforceable under Bivens . This makes sense, especially because the plaintiffs downshifted away from § 1983 because they blew the statute of limitations--it makes no sense to have § 1983 as the cause of action unless you have deprived yourself of the opportunity to file a § 1983 action, in which case you can rely on the Constitution. Plus, it seems like a futile move from the outset--Bivens actions are subject to the personal-injury period for the state in which the action is brought (one year in Kentucky), as are § 1983 actions. If a 13th-Amendment-Bivens claim were possible, it would be as time-barred as the § 1983 action.

The alternative basis for dismissal makes less sense--that the state has 11th Amendment immunity because there is no clear congressional statement abrogating immunity. But that begs the question. The unequivocal congressional statement appears in the statutory cause of action. Congress should have the same power to abrogate under § 2 of the 13th Amendment as under § 5 of the 14th--both were enacted subsequent to Article III and the 11th Amendment and both limited state power and enhanced federal power.But congressional power or congressional statement is irrelevant in this case, because the absence of a congressionally created cause of action precludes any congressional statement. The question should be whether the amendment itself abrogates, which has nothing to do with a clear congressional statement. The answer cannot depend on the text; no constitutional provision--including those through which Congress can abrogate--expressly abrogates sovereign immunity because sovereign immunity appears nowhere in the Constitution. The absence of abrogation here derives from the absence of a congressional cause of action, which was the first reason for rejecting the plaintiffs' claims; it is not an independent basis for dismissal.

The court pointed out the "broader policy questions" about whether a one-year limitations period is too short for constitutional claims under § 1983. Courts apply the state limitations period so far as it is "not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States." A six-month period is too short and inconsistent with the purposes of § 1983 and the Constitution. Perhaps one year is too short, as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 7, 2022 at 01:22 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Two interesting § 1983 ideas (corrected)

1) Steve Vladeck has an essay at MSNBC on the Court's shrinking docket and slow pace. He makes a point I had not considered: The Court's shrinking docket means fewer opportunities for rights to be clearly established and therefore less ability for plaintiffs to overcome qualified immunity. This takes on a larger scope if the Court follows through on hints that lower-court precedent cannot clearly establish.

2) Angeli Gomez is the Ulvane Uvalde parent who urged police to enter the school, was handcuffed, released, and ran into the school to rescue her children. CBS reports that Ulvane Uvalde police told Gomez not to speak publicly about the events on threat of prosecution for obstruction of justice and violation of her parole. Popehat wants to represent her in what he thinks could be a viable § 1983 action. The two questions are whether a nonsense arrest threat, without follow-through, constitutes a sufficient deprivation of the First Amendment and whether there either is case law establishing that (nothing from SCOTUS, doubt there is a "robust consensus" from lower courts) or whether this is an obvious violation.

Edits: My apologies for getting the town's name wrong.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2022 at 12:08 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Call for Abstracts: Complex Litigation Ethics Conference at UC Hastings

The Center for Litigation and Courts and Huntington National Bank are excited to announce a call for abstracts for the upcoming Complex Litigation Ethics Conference to be held on the UC Hastings Law campus on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

A substantial percentage of all cases filed in federal court are MDL cases, many of them involving proposed class actions. Meanwhile, district courts struggle with case management, settlement, and post-settlement administration of these complex cases. Yet scant scholarly attention has been paid to how courts adapt ethical rules and norms to complex litigation. This full-day conference will explore such issues as: 

  1. Adapting Ethics to Complex Litigation in General;
  2. Ethics in Funding Complex Litigation;
  3. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity in Complex Litigation; and
  4. Ethics in Communicating with Absent Class Members. 

Symposium papers will be published in a 2023 issue of the Hastings Law Journal. Confirmed speakers include federal judges, professors, and practicing attorneys, including Eric L. Cramer (Chair, Berger Montague PC), Maya Steinitz (Professor, University of Iowa) and W. Bradley Wendel (Professor, Cornell Law School). Additional speakers will be selected in part through this call for abstracts. For presenters not at for-profit legal practices, reasonable travel expenses and up to two nights’ lodging will be provided, in addition to meals. Presenters will be expected to circulate a polished draft paper by October 12. Final papers of around 8,000 words must be submitted to the Hastings Law Journal by December 31.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be submitted by email to Professor Joshua P. Davis at [email protected], with the subject heading “Abstract Submission – Complex Litigation Ethics Conference,” by June 30 (or contact Joshua P. Davis to discuss timing). Selections will be made in the first week of July and then on an ongoing basis. 

Any questions should be submitted to Professor Davis at the email above.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 1, 2022 at 04:58 PM in Civil Procedure, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

SCOTUS vacates stay of Texas social-media law (Updated)

SCOTUS vacated the Fifth Circuit unexplained stay of the district court injunction of HB20, Texas' social-media law; in other words, the law cannot be enforced pending appeal. This leaves the Texas law in the same place as Florida's, following  last week's 11th Circuit decision affirming the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of that law. Justice Kagan would have denied the stay application, without explanation. Alito dissents for Thomas and Gorsuch.

Alito's dissent hits all the conservative Twitter talking points about social media that misapply or misunderstand First Amendment doctrine. Plus he adds a gratuitous footnote about § 230 requiring neutrality or creating a platform/publisher distinction. Special mention for accepting this verbal sleight-of-hand: "Texas contends that § 7 does not require social media platforms to host any particular message but only to to refrain from discrimination against a user's speech on the basis of viewpoint"--as if prohibiting a site from rejecting speech on the basis of viewpoint does not compel the site to carry that speech by eliminating one basis for the site to remove that speech.

Presuming the Fifth Circuit declares the law valid when it reaches the merits to create a circuit split and presuming Justice Kagan's position is based on posture and not First Amendment substance (she did not join Alito's opinion), the vote should be 6-3 that a state law violates the First Amendment in attempting to compel private entities to carry speech and speakers they would prefer not to carry.

Besides pushing troubling First Amendment arguments, Alito pushes a troubling procedural argument. He suggests that a pre-enforcement federal action is inappropriate because HB20 is enforceable for prospective relief (injunction, plus ancillary attorney's fees and costs) but not the sort of harsh retroactive relief (imprisonment or severe fines and penalties) as with the law in Ex Parte Young; a social-media site therefore can raise the First Amendment as a defense to a state suit for injunctive relief, also allowing the state court to interpret the law's vague provisions. But the Court has never held that EPY actions are limited to laws that impose retroactive sanctions for past conduct, especially where attorney's fees may impose greater financial consequences on rights-holders than retroactive damages or fines.

Although he did not cite it, I think Alito drew the wrong conclusion from WWH and SB8. The WWH Court was correct that re-enforcement offensive EPY actions are not constitutionally required and defensive litigation can be constitutionally sufficient. That does not mean an EPY action is improper whenever defensive litigation is available (which is always). The question is whether EPY's other requirements--an identifiable responsible executive officer whose enforcement can be enjoined--are met. SB8 could not be challenged offensively because the absence of public enforcement meant no responsible officer and no one to enjoin. HB20 is publicly enforced (while also allowing private enforcement), satisfying this element of EPY.

Update: On this last point about Alito's hostility to EPY actions, he includes this line: "While I can understand the Court's apparent desire to delay enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending, the preliminary injunction entered by the District Court was itself a significant intrusion on state sovereignty and Texas should not be required to seek preclearance from the federal courts before its laws go into effect." Putting aside the misuse of laws "go[ing] into effect," Steve Vladeck shows that since November 2020, Alito has voted publicly ten times on emergency-relief requests in offensive pre-enforcement actions that would stop enforcement of state laws pending resolution of federal pre-enforcement litigation. Of those cases, one challenged a Maine law; the others challenged New York or California laws. He never suggested those state courts should have a crack at interpreting the law. I do not believe he is trying anymore.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 31, 2022 at 07:48 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Judicial takings and alternatives to offemsive litigation

This Seventh Circuit case (Diane Wood for Manion and Scudder) is weird and I am trying to figure it out. I think it illustrates broader points about the problem of offensive-or-defensive litigation on constitutional issues.

A group of property owners brought a state-court quiet title action against Indiana, arguing that they owned Lake Michigan beach-front property to the low-tide mark, as reflected in their deeds; the Indiana Supreme Court (Gunderson) held that Indiana holds and retains submerged property up to the high-tide mark. The legislature then codifed the decision, declaring its ownership and declaring laekfront property owner's non-ownership below that mark. A different group of property owners (non-parties to Gunderson) brought this action against the governor, AG, against the governor, AG, and heads of the agencies on natural resources and state lands, alleging a judicial taking and seeking a DJ and injunction that they owned the property to the low-water mark.. The  panel dismissed the claim on standing grounds, finding no traceability or redressability to the state officials sued, since they do nothing to enforce Gunderson or the statute defining the property lines and can do nothing to grant the plaintiffs title to the challenged portion of the lakefront. The court also identified federalism-and-comity based caution (reflecting the ideals, if not applications, of Rooker-Feldman) in hearing a case raising a novel legal theory that requires a lower federal court to review the merits of a state supreme court decision. The court dismissed with leave to amend, although I am not sure what they can do to salvage this action.

The outcome is correct, but the case highlights some weird doctrinal interstices. It also shows how constitutional litigation occurs outside the ordinary pre-enforcement offensive action against a state executive. Assuming judicial takings can be a thing, what are plaintiffs such as these to do?

1) The appropriate course for a judicial-takings claim is to appeal the state-court decision effecting the taking to SCOTUS. That is not available to the federal plaintiffs, who were not party to the state decision. That also explains why the court did not dismiss on RF grounds--the federal plaintiffs were not state court losers.

2) One possibility is that non-parties cannot suffer a judicial taking, since the state-court judgment had no effect on their property rights. Thus Gunderson may have taken the property of the owners who sued in state court, but not of the different owners who sued in federal court. This has intuitive appeal. Judgments in non-class-actions do not bind non-parties. It makes no sense to give a judgment a broader effect as a taking than as a judgment. Any "taking" of the federal plaintiffs' property arises from Gunderson's precedential effect in future litigation, but any taking should not happen before then. This point should apply had the federal plaintiffs brought a claim for compensation for the taking rather than an injunction (the court suggests they would have had standing to do that, because these officials could provide compensation). These owners are not (yet) entitled to compensation because Gunderson did nothing to their property rights, beyond precedential

The district court rejected any judicial-takings claim here because Gunderson did not strip these owners of established ownership rights, as required by the Scalia plurality in Stop the Beach. At worst it resolved an ambiguity as to ownership; at best it declared, as a matter of state law, that they never owned this land at all and it has always been state property. My argument provides another basis for rejecting that claim--as non-parties to Gunderson, their property was not lost because that decision did nothing as to their property.

3) The plaintiffs made a strange concession: that their challenge to the statute turns on their judicial-takings claim. "If Gunderson stands, it follows that the Owners never held title to the land below the ordinary high-water mark, and the legislation therefore had no effect on their property rights." I do not understand this point. The legislature owns state property, subject to judicial review and interpretation. The state supreme court having declared the state owns to the high-water mark, I do not understand why the legislature could not enact legislation declaring state ownership, whether consistent with Gunderson or consistent with the owners' deeds. To the extent state declarations of ownership below the high-water mark constitute a taking, why does the statute alone not effect that taking? This does not resolve the standing problem as the court sees it, since the defendant officials continue to lack power to grant ownership. But it makes the possible taking argument clearer.

4) Traceability and redressability fail because the court cannot order any of the defendants to grant the plaintiffs title to the contested land. How, then, can they assert whatever rights they might have? The court imagines how this comes up for the owners:

Gunderson recognized that members of the public have a right to walk on the beach in front of the Pavlocks’ house as long as they stay lakeward of the high-water mark; an injunction requiring the State to refrain from any action would not grant the Pavlocks the right to exclude. If Cahnman wants to sell his beachfront property, he may convey land only from the high-water mark. The requested injunction would not give him title to submerged lands that Indiana law (confirmed by both the state’s highest court and its legislature) says belongs to the state. To the extent the Owners’ deeds conflict with Gunderson and HEA 1385, the latter two sources govern. And if, for example, the Pavlocks tried to sue people who walked on the section of beach between the high- and low-water marks for trespass, or Cahnman tried to hoodwink a buyer by representing that he held title down to the low-water mark, an injunction against state officials would not prevent Indiana’s Recorder’s Offices from correcting that error, or Indiana courts from applying Gunderson.

This hints at how this sort of takings claim, if it can exist, should come to court. The Pavlocks sue people walking on  the beach for trespass; the trespassers cite Gunderson and/or the statute as the source of their right to walk there; the Pavlocks argue that the decision in their case applying Gunderson and the statute effect a taking; and that argument provides a basis for § 1257 review of the state court. Cahnman hoodwinks a seller; the seller sues him for hoodwinking him, citing Gunderson and the statute; Cahnman defends on the ground that Gunderson and the statute effect a taking; and that defense provides a basis for § 1257 review of the state court.

The hypothetical suit against the trespassers should sound somewhat familiar to Fed Courts geeks--it is basically Mottley. This suggests that the Mottleys could not have sued the executive when Congress enacted the law prohibiting free passes--like the plaintiffs here, they would have lacked standing. They would have been forced to proceed, in state court, as they did--Mottleyssue the Railroad for breach; RR argues impossibility based on the statute; Mottleys argue statute violates the 5th Amendment; argument provides a basis for § 1257 review.

Again, consider this another example of asserting constitutional rights outside the typical offensive EPY action. Some of these claims are somewhat offensive in that the Pavlocks initiate the lawsuit, although the federal constitutional issue is not the main piece of the claim and arises downstream in the litigation. Nevertheless, we accept this as appropriate procedure, not some conspiracy to eliminate judicial review.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 26, 2022 at 12:40 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Judge Newsom in the news

Three weeks of grading and a round of edits have limited my writing here. Let me jump back in with a short ode to the recent work of Eleventh Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom.

Everyone is talking about Newsom's opinion for a unanimous panel declaring every significant provision of Florida' social-media law constitutionally invalid. Although a few disclosure provisions survive, the opinion is an overwhelming win for the web sites--content moderation is First Amendment-protected editorial decisionmaking; social-media sites are not common carriers (and slapping that label on them is meaningless, anyway); and the state has no legitimate, much less substantial or compelling, interest in telling the sites what speakers or speech it must keep on the site. The decision creates an interesting procedural bind. A district court declared Texas' similar law constitutionally invalid and enjoined enforcement, but the Fifth Circuit stayed the injunction without explanation following oral argument. The plaintiffs in that case have asked SCOTUS to lift the stay and reinstate the injunction; that is pending. We are left with this weird sort-of splitt--all reasoned opinions (one Eleventh Circuit and two district courts) declaring the laws invalid against tea leaves (the unexplained stay and the tenor of argument) hinting at the Fifth Circuit coming out the other way. Is that enough for the Court to take the case?

Equally interesting is two Newsom concurrences. U.S. v. Jimenez-Shimon, written by Newsom for a unanimous panel, declared valid a federal law criminalizing firearms possession by undocumented immigrants and affirmed a conviction. He then concurred in his opinion to question the use of tiers of scrutiny for the Second Amendment (which should be based on text and history) and generally, with a nice thumbnail sketch of the many pieces of First Amendment doctrine that he calls "exhausting," "judge-empowering," and "freedom-diluting." Resnick v. KrunchKash reversed a jurisdictional dismissal, finding that a § 1983 action against a creditor for using state garnishment proceeding was not wholly insubstantial and frivolous. Newsom concurred for the panel to reject Bell v. Hood and the idea that a case is so frivolous as to deprive the court of jurisdiction; calling it an issue that had bothered him since law school, Newsom argued that a claim that pleads a federal issue on its face gives the court jurisdiction, even if the claim is an obvious loser. These are of a piece with his concurrence from last year adopting the Fletcher view that standing is merits, wrongly mischaracterized, and arguing that any limits on Congress' power to create new private rights comes from Article II rather than Article III.

I unsurprisingly agree with Newsom on standing and Bell and have written as much. It is interesting to wonder about Newsom's broader agenda. He is young (49) and conservative. Is this a way to position himself as potential SCOTUS pick? He does it not through outward insanity in destroying the administrative state and Commerce Clause, as with the Fifth Circuit folks. Instead, he is thoughtful and scholarly, pondering important-but-not-hot-button issues that have "bothered" him since he sat in Fed Courts as a law student and that he is trying to work out 25 years later.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 24, 2022 at 10:41 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2022

JOTWELL: Coleman on Reda on data and inequality

The new Courts Law essay comes from Brooke Coleman (Seattle), reviewing Danya Sochair Reda, Producing Procedural Inequality Through the Empirical Turn, 94 Colo. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2023), on how data has been misused in a partisan rulemaking process to create and further procedural inequality.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 13, 2022 at 09:18 AM in Article Spotlight, Civil Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2022

More overlapping jurisdictional doctrines

Another example of overlapping "jurisdictional" doctrines, in which courts take the same fact--whether an executive official has a present or future intent to enforce an invalid law--going to ripeness, standing, and EPY. The Eighth Circuit held that sovereign immunity bars a challenge to a Minnesota law prohibiting certain false statements in campaign materials, because the four defendant prosecutors, while responsible for enforcement, had no present intent to enforce the law. The court discusses precedent in which the court found standing and ripeness but held the executive had sovereign immunity because, while the responsible executive, he had no intent to enforce.

I continue to have several problems with this. First, it makes no sense for three doctrines to turn on one fact. Second, it makes less sense for a fact to point different ways for different doctrines--if there is sufficient threat of enforcement to establish standing, there should be sufficient threat of enforcement to establish an ongoing violation for EPY. Third, this is all merits and it would be nice if we treated it as such.

Finally, note that the court cited the SB8 case for the basics of EPY and the absence of an enforcing executive.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 12, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Random reactions to some items in the news

My response to some random news items.

Leah Litman and Steve Vladeck argue discuss the constitutional rights that could be on the chopping block if the Dobbs draft becomes the Court's opinion, with the provocative headline "The Biggest Lie Conservative Defenders of Alito's Leaked Opinion Are Telling." Conservative commentators and others have taken umbrage, especially to the headline and to the implication, pointing to Alito's efforts to distinguish abortion from other unenumerated rights and the supposed "popularity" of these other rights. As Leah and Steve argue, there are distinct pieces to this: 1) What GOP legislatures and executives might try to do and 2) How SCOTUS will respond to litigation over such efforts.

The lens of judicial departmentalism sharpens what is happening here. Legislative and executive officials have never been bound by SCOTUS precedent; they have been free to enact and enforce/threaten to enforce laws that run afoul of Roe/Casey, Griswold, Obergefell, etc. Those efforts fail in the lower courts, which are bound by SCOTUS precedent, and likely fail in SCOTUS in the absence of willingness to overrule precedent. If the Alito draft becomes the Opinion of the Court, it does not authorize previously unauthorized conduct in the political branches. It emboldens them to pursue these laws, believing that these efforts will be less pointless (because having a better chance of success) and less costly (because defeat in court means attorney's fees). One commentator (not sure who) argued that Roe is unique because it never gained broad acceptance, unlike Brown. Describing Brown as widely accepted is so ahistorical that whoever said it should no longer be taken seriously. But Brown illustrates how judicial departmentalism operates. The Southern Manifesto and pieces of "Massive Resistance" exemplified how political branches can continue to follow their own course.

The issue always comes returns to SCOTUS and how ready it is to overrule precedent. Massive Resistance failed when courts smacked them down (as happened in Cooper and elsewhere), except courts did not do that often enough. Similarly, if a majority of SCOTUS does not follow Alito where his opinion leads, fears from the left are unfounded. But it is disingenuous, as Litman/Vladeck critics do, to say that GOP politicians cannot and will not attempt to push the envelope--they always have been able to do so and always have done so. Just as it is disingenuous to argue that the Dobbs draft does not lay the rhetorical and precedential groundwork to overrule other cases because the Justices may choose not to do so.

Vice tells the story of Romana Didulo, a Candian Q-Anon person who convinced followers (who believe she is Queen and running Canada behind the scene) to stop paying their utility bills because water and electricity are free. The consequences to her followers, many of whom are financially vulnerable, should be obvious. This is a consequence (ironic? unfortunate? inevitable) of our approach to free speech. Because it is almost always impossible to stop or punish the bad speaker, consequences fall on those who listen to the bad speaker and engage in criminal (1/6 insurrectionists) or unwise (the people who stop paying their utility bills) activities. We hope the negative consequences prompt listeners to turn away from the speaker, who, deprived of an audience, stops speaking. But that is a long process and one that often harms those who cannot afford it, while the powerful remain insulated.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 11, 2022 at 04:49 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Judicial Process, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 09, 2022

State Interests for Jurisdiction by Registration

This is the final post by Charles "Rocky" Rhodes and Cassandra Burke Robertson (Case) on next Term's personal jurisdiction case. They will be back for the argument.

Our last post maintained that some state interest in the litigation is necessary for a corporation’s registration to support jurisdiction. This may appear counterintuitive. After all, if a corporation decides to register to do business when the state’s registration scheme specifies the jurisdictional consequences of registration, shouldn’t the registration operate as other forms of consent to jurisdiction, such as forum selection clauses, which do not typically necessitate a state interest?

But we think that the state-interest question is important enough that instead of joining an amicus brief supporting either party, we are working to draft a brief that charts a narrower course. Both the petitioner’s position (that the state may condition registration on consent to jurisdiction without exception) and the respondent’s position (that the state may not condition registration on consent to jurisdiction at all) raise serious federalism concerns.

First, the risk of state overreach is real, especially in areas where state policies are both diametrically opposed and politically salient. Imagine that Texas adopted a consent-by-registration statute as broad as the Pennsylvania one. National drugstores like CVS would have to register to do business and submit to personal jurisdiction as a condition of registration. Would the registration statute then allow someone to sue CVS in Texas for filling a mifepristone prescription outside the state of Texas? The threat of jurisdictional overreach reinforces the need for a sovereign interest, and it suggests that legislative jurisdiction and adjudicative jurisdiction can't be wholly separated.

At the same time, however, forbidding the state from extracting jurisdictional consent kneecaps state power so severely that it also undermines the federalist system. This is especially apparent in products liability cases, where it's common to have a seller, manufacturer, component-part manufacturer, buyer, and the injury in different states (as happened in the Cooper Tire lawsuit). In such cases, there may be no single state where all defendants could be subject to either general or specific jurisdiction. The state’s power to extract consent as a condition of registration allows the parties to be brought before the court in a single lawsuit. As Alexandra Lahav has recently noted, restricting states’ power to exercise personal jurisdiction in products liability cases undermines state tort law and risks granting effective “immunity from suit for manufacturers” that is at odds with state substantive law.

Our position is therefore different from either of the parties before the Court in Mallory: we think that the state’s authority to extract jurisdictional consent is a legitimate exercise of sovereign authority, but that its legitimacy extends only as far as the state’s sovereign interest.

This middle position fits with procedural principles, historical practice, and constitutional doctrine.

Differences exist between consent through registration and consent by contract or waiver by litigation conduct. As Tanya Monestier observed, contractual or litigation-conduct submissions to jurisdiction are limited to identifiable parties or specific lawsuits—a provision in a contract between private parties governs the forum for their dispute, or litigation conduct in an existing suit waives an otherwise available jurisdictional objection. In contrast, consent through registration represents the corporation’s acceptance of an obligation to defend those claims the state demands to acquire the benefits of engaging in intrastate business under the state’s sovereign authority.

Even though the Supreme Court has long viewed such statutory exchanges of obligations and benefits as manifesting a valid form of consent, the exercise of state sovereign authority in exacting such an agreement implicates constitutional concerns. These concerns, though, as Aaron Simowitz explained, do not doctrinally mirror the restraints for contacts jurisdiction. Courts should evaluate the constitutionally permissible scope of consent through registration under the limitations that have developed surrounding this type of jurisdictional assertion and other analogous statutory exchanges between sovereign states and citizens.

As discussed in our first post, the Supreme Court in the nineteenth century consistently expressed that the permissible bounds of jurisdiction against an appointed agent under a registration statute extended only to suits related to the business conducted in the forum. Although one reading of Justice Holmes’ opinion in Pennsylvania Fire in the early twentieth century is that a corporate registration statute may authorize jurisdiction for even unrelated claims without any connection to the sovereign authority of the State, the Supreme Court just three years after Pennsylvania Fire cautioned that it did “not wish to be understood that the validity of such service . . . would not be of federal cognizance.”  The original understanding thus presupposes some potential constitutional limits on the extent to which a corporation may be required to consent to jurisdiction to obtain the benefits of conducting intrastate business activities.

Due process ensures the government’s compliance with fundamental notions of fairness with respect to any of exercise of its power. As we have argued, in analogous statutory exchange situations, such as conditions on a land-use permit or implied consent to blood-alcohol testing as a condition for the privilege of driving on the state’s roads, the Court has required a congruence between the scope of the consent granted and the state benefits obtained as part of the exchange. Jeff Rensberger similarly relied on analogies to waivers of constitutional objections to state-court proceedings, exactions in takings cases, and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine to urge that a state sovereign interest is necessary to satisfy constitutional limitations.

Requiring the corporation to consent to all-purpose dispute-blind jurisdiction, for any claim filed by any person arising anywhere in the world, transcends this congruence when the state has no sovereign interest in the proceeding. Without a sovereign interest in the proceeding, the state is leveraging its permission to conduct intrastate corporate activities to regulate the corporation’s global activities, a disproportionate “deal” as the state has no generic interest in regulating a foreign corporation’s out-of-state conduct. On the other hand, if a sufficient state interest exists in the dispute, the arrangement is proportional. In exchange for the state’s forbearance in excluding, or attaching additional conditions on, the corporation’s in-state conduct, the corporation is agreeing to its amenability to suit for claims that have some connection to a state sovereign interest.

Jack Preis has argued convincingly that the Due Process Clause is not the only limit on personal jurisdiction—the Dormant Commerce Clause must also be considered, as a plaintiff’s forum choice over out-of-state corporations may burden interstate commerce. Under the Dormant Commerce Clause’s demand that state laws cannot discriminate against or impose an undue burden on interstate commerce in the absence of a sufficient local interest, Jack contends that registration statutes cannot authorize jurisdiction when the state does not have a strong enough interest in the proceeding, such as an in-state injury or a state citizen injured outside the state, a perspective we have mirrored in our own work.

Our view, then, of the correct answer to the question presented in Mallory—whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from requiring a corporation to consent to personal jurisdiction to do business in the state—is neither yes nor no, but sometimes, depending on the state’s sovereign interest in the case. Of course, both parties will see things differently, with Mallory arguing the answer is always no and Norfolk Southern Railway urging the answer is always yes. We’ll be back in the fall during the week of argument, thanks to Howard’s kind invitation, to discuss the parties’ positions in more detail as fleshed out by their merits briefing and the Court’s lines of inquiry.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 9, 2022 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (0)